By MICHAEL LETENDRE
HARTFORD – For a coach, the worst part of the year is that feeling you get after the final horn sounds and the game – and season – is over.
It means that an irreplaceable group of seniors is about to leave your program, never to play on the high school court again and there is always a sense of loss when that happens.
Sure, the loss stings but the real loss is the sting and realization that you won’t be working with the same group of special players ever again.
And in St. Paul’s season ending loss at Classical Magnet on March 9, a 71-64 defeat in the second round of the Class S state tournament bracket, the final, lasting image for any St. Paul fan was watching head coach Steve Phelps walk off the floor – for the last time – with his senior core of Kyle Dube and Jordan Rowley as they exited the gymnasium together.
Even after some reflection after the game, long time St. Paul coach Steve Phelps still seemed shocked that his days of coaching the likable senior tandem of Rowley and Dube came to an abrupt end.
“All I can think about right now is number 11 Kyle Dube and number 22 Jordan Rowley,” said Phelps about his senior core. “I expected to be with them for another couple of days.”
And if you’re a coach, you go into every game feeling confident you’re going to advance to the next round, playing again another day and the way the Falcons just battled back from a huge deficit, the possibility of another contest seemed to be on the horizon.
With the loss to Classical, it was the end of a long season but it certainly a fulfilling one for Phelps and his coaching staff.
“It’s been 102 days of a family environment” said Phelps. “We’ve had ups and downs. We’ve had injuries. We’ve had disciplines but you can’t be together for 102 days and not experience highs and lows.”
Again, the St. Paul boys basketball team didn’t have your traditional basketball players.
You had a little of this, you had a little or that, but with the belief in team, you had a group of athletes who played as one unit and followed the lead of basketball veterans Dube and Rowley.
“Those kids, Jordan Rowley and Kyle Dube, I’m not sure many people gave them credit coming back,” said Phelps. “Here’s this kid (Dube), a Division I baseball player, we took a few wide receivers, another pitcher from the baseball team, a running back, a first year player as a junior, arguably an all-state soccer player and a couple of these young kids…Jordan and Dube put them on their back and here we are talking on March 9 (having just played two games in the state tournament).”
You have to give a warrior like Dube the credit as he simply doesn’t quit.
He is a leader on the court and it’s easy to see why Dube’s teammates respect him for his on court ability, his leadership and his underrated basketball IQ.
Ditto about Rowley as he’s another bulldog that never backed down from a challenge.
Phelps crafted a team around his two seniors and that model worked out pretty darn well.
“It’s them…it’s them,” said Phelps about Dube and Rowley with pride. “It’s what they were able to do.”
So the sting may still be there for Phelps and a sense of loss might have been evident during this past weekend’s high school state championships showdowns but once this group of young men see what they’ve accomplished this season – looking at the whole body of work – hopefully they understand how special their journey truly was.
“I told the guys in the days, in the weeks, in the months to come, I think the errors are going to fade,” said Phelps of the final game and the season. “The mistakes are going to fade, the what-if’s, the could’ves, the second guessing will never fade – certainly from a coaching perspective – but certainly not too long from now, they (the players) will appreciate what they were able to accomplish.”