The 2018-19 boys basketball season included some of the most memorable seasons for area teams, who will be hoping to replicate that success this year.
From defending state champions to state finalists, there is plenty to watch for when the season kicks off this week.
Here is what to keep an eye on for each local team:
Head coach: Kurt Reis (3rd season)
Last year: 21-7 (lost to top-seeded Waterford in Division II final)
Key graduates/losses: Kaiyon Gunn, Shamah Charles, Isaiah Jenkins, Maurice Turner
Key returnees: Tahmeen Dupree (Sr, G), Nyzaiah Diaz (Sr, F)
Notable newcomer(s) to watch: Justice Carter (Jr, G), Tyrone Cummings (So)
Outlook: After one of the most memorable seasons in New Britain basketball history that resulted in a trip to the program’s first state title game since 2002, Reis will have to try and make another state tournament run with an almost completely different starting five.
Each member of last year’s starting lineup, including all-conference selection Kaiyonn Gunn, graduated save for fellow all-conference selection Tahmeen Dupree, who will be heavily relied upon this year. Nyzaiah Diaz, who was a factor off the bench last year, will also have to step into a much more demanding role.
Despite the talent Reis and the Hurricanes lost, they can’t be counted out, not with Reis’ relentless full-court defense that generates countless scoring runs for New Britain in transition. As long as Reis has the athletes capable of keeping up with his high-paced defense, the Hurricanes should find their way back to the postseason.
Head coach: Mike Venezanio (11th season)
Last year: 14-7 (lost in second round of Division III state tournament)
Key losses/graduates: Holden Murphy, Gianni Fanelli, Ryan Hyde
Key returnees: Camden Murphy (Sr, G), Jeff Madeia (Sr, G/F)
Notable newcomer(s) to watch: N/A
Outlook: Like New Britain, the Redcoats lost a lot of their top talent from last year’s group, including all-conference selections Gianni Fanelli and Holden Murphy, who, with Hyde, accounted for 39 of the team’s 49 points in Berlin’s loss to tournament runner-up Amistad in the second round. That scoring output reflects the challenge that lies ahead for Venezanio.
Fanelli and Murphy combined to average 40 points per game last year, more than half of the 62 points per game that the team averaged as a whole. Needless to say, a combination of returning starters and new faces will have to make significant strides for the Redcoats to have another successful season this winter.
Head coach: Ed Quick (3rd season)
Last year: 13-10 (lost in second round of Division II state tournament)
Key graduates/Losses: Mason Romano, Teddy Fravel, AJ Fair
Key returnees: Patrick Brennan (Sr, G), Jordan Dukes (Sr, G), Raheim Lowery (Sr, F), Donavan Price (Sr, C), Razik Amadou (Sr, F)
Notable newcomer(s) to watch: Jayden Andujar (Jr, G)
Outlook: The Indians were a middle-of-the-pack team through the regular season last year, but they made noise once the state tournament arrived, rolling to a win over Darien in the first round and came just short of an upset over No. 5 Amity in the second round, dropping a 56-54 game on the road. With two big losses to the roster, it will take some work for Newington to get back there this season.
Teddy Fravel, a huge two-way piece from last year’s group, is now on to the next level and playing at Clarkson University, and all-conference forward Mason Romano was thought to have another year with the program, but instead he transferred to Winchendon School in Massachusetts. Add in the loss of another all-conference talent AJ Fair, and the Indians will have a lot to replace.
Fortunately, Quick’s group will be loaded with experience, as all five projected members of the starting five are seniors, and like last year, Quick is hoping a lockdown defense will help mask some of the offensive talent it lost this offseason.
“We will have to be a defensive-minded team with a structured offense,” Quick said. “We have many talented teams on our schedule. We will have to play as a unit to match our opponents.”
Head coach: John Cessario (6th season)
Last year: 13-10 (lost in second round of Division II state tournament)
Key losses/graduates: Colin Burdette, Adam Hunter
Key returnees: Jared Kelly (Sr, G), Jake Napoli (Sr, G), Jake Delmonte (Sr, F), Sean Olson (Sr, G), Billy Wadolowski (Sr, F), Joe Gaudio (Sr, G), Zack Zembrzuski (Sr, C), Austin Carta (Sr, G)
Notable newcomer(s) to watch: Dylan Olson (Jr, F), Aedan Derrick (Jr, C), Nick Marecki (Jr, PG), Rick Macioce (Jr, F), Anthony Matarazzo (Jr, PG), Devan Bade (Jr, F)
Outlook: The Blue Knights have a load of experience returning this season, led by a pack of seniors with varsity experience, but they also endured heavy losses, especially Burdette, the team’s lone all-conference selection last season who led Southington offensively, and to the state tournament.
The Blue Knights greatly improved as last year went on, winning 12 of its final 14 regular season games to make the tournament, and hope to continue that into this season. They’ll just have to find a new offensive centerpiece to get back to the postseason. The return of Zack Zembruski should help, after the senior missed all of last season with an injury.
Head coach: Jim DiNello (6th season)
Last year: 9-12 (lost in first round of Division V state tournament)
Key losses/graduates: Brady Callahan, Sam Lestini, Jason Mills, Pierre Ramirez
Key returnees: Anthony Lestini (Jr, F), Louis Passaretti (Sr, G), Tanner Callahan (Jr, G), Javan Paradis (Jr, G), Alec Couture (Jr, F)
Notable newcomer(s): N/A
Outlook: Brady Callahan, the team’s lone representative on last year’s all-conference team, represents a big loss for the Blue Devils, who just squeaked into the state tournament last season. Callahan highlights a large group of graduates, as seven of the 12 players on last year’s varsity roster were seniors last season.
If Plainville is to get back to the state tournament, it will need its pack of juniors to take a step forward in their first seasons as upperclassmen. Passaretti will represent the only senior of the group that returns from last year’s roster, so this could be a year of rebuilding and asjusting for DiNello’s group.
Head coach: Matt Lance (5th season)
Last year: 24-2 (won Division V state championship)
Key losses/graduates: Lenny Okonya, Lester Emanuel III, Ramiesh Bogle, Carlos Gonzalez, Armoni Alonso
Key returnees: LJ Hazelwood (Sr, F), Clinton Allen (Sr, F)
Notable newcomer(s) to watch: Gabe Matias (Jr, G), Michael Blackman (Jr, G), Luther Nowlin (Sr, G)
Outlook: The 2018-19 season is going to be hard for this year’s Ravens to top. Last March, Innovation won the program’s first-ever state championship, rolling through the state title with an elite defense and a pair of All-State selections in Okonya and Hazelwood.
Okonya, the leading vote getter for the CRAL’s All-League Team last season, will be a tough loss, particularly in the rebound department, where he averaged 10.1 boards per game. He also was third in the state with 4.6 blocks per game, meaning the Ravens have a lot of production to make up for at the rim.
“It will be interesting to see how the new contributors to the varsity squad will fill roles that the team needs filled,” Lance said. “Some of these guys had the opportunity to practice against our graduates for two years, so they are prepared for the challenge of taking on new roles this season at the varsity level.”
Those new contributors will still have a returning centerpiece in Hazelwood, though the rest of last year’s historic team have graduated, meaning this could be a team that has to find its way as the season moves along.
“It is going to be exciting to see how this team can find its identity this season,” Lance said. “The program will continue to be built around its defensive abilities. Establishing this defensive identity is all about the team willing to do all of the little things that great defensive teams do. It will be exciting to see how new players can step into the limelight and show others what we already know they are capable of doing.”
Head coach: Reuben Charles (20th season)
Last year: 12-12 (lost in first round of Division IV state tournament)
Key losses/graduates: Nehemiah Brown
Key returnees: Luis Aguiar (Sr, F), Xavier Cartagena (Jr, G), Joseph Santiago (Jr, G)
Notable newcomer(s): Jesse Tandoh, Wilson Richardson
Outlook: After losing just one senior from last year’s roster, the Gladiators have a chance to take a step forward and get back to the state tournament. Goodwin Tech will be loaded with experience, but size could be an issue. The smaller Gladiators team will need to be an efficient shooting squad, and luckily they have one in captain Luis Aguiar, who is approaching 1,000 points for his career.
Xavier Cartagena represents another strong returning offensive talent, as the junior guard averaged 12 points per game last season. Between Cartagena and Aguiar (19 points per game last year), the Gladiators should have enough offensive firepower to make up for their lack of size and make a return to the postseason.