By MICHAEL LETENDRE
WESTBROOK – When reality hit the St. Paul Catholic boys basketball team after its final game of the 2016-17 scholastic season, the squad knew that it dropped its state tournament tilt to a better squad in the form of eventual Class S state runner up Westbrook.
The Falcons fought tooth and nail to the end of the encounter against the Knights and the 86-68 loss, which saw the Falcons finish up at 17-7 overall, marked the final scholastic contest for a very special group of seniors.
Forward/center Austin Jones certainly played well for the program over his four years as he became a bit of a double-double machine – especially over his final two seasons of play.
He notched more than 250 points this season before postseason play and took an average of 12.6 points-per-game into the tournament fray.
Jones could hit shots from the outside, spin into the lane for buckets, use his length to block shots and there was certainly a bit of unselfishness to his game as he, along with junior sharpshooter Mike Palmieri, gave up offensive touches to integrate junior transfer Tyler Arbuckle into the mix.
“Austin Jones is an obvious mention because he was a captain and he’s got some postseason accolades,” said St. Paul coach Steve Phelps. “He’s playing in the Connecticut High School Senior All Star Game on March 22. He’s playing in the NVL All Star Game. He was a NVL All-Copper Division selection. There are still a couple of All State teams that are out there pending, who knows. His contributions to the program may be a little more visual, I guess if you will, because of the time that he had.”
“But we have three other seniors who have made contributions to this program as important as those as Austin has made.”
And the next senior Phelps mentioned wasn’t a player but the statistical engineer of the squad, Jack Bator.
Bator, using advanced technology to keep track of statistical analysis for the Falcons as well as performing several other tasks behind the scenes, played his role to perfection.
Bator is certainly well ahead of the curve and could easily be successful at the collegiate level doing exactly what he did for St. Paul Catholic from the bench.
“I have an operations guy, Jack Bator, who has been with us for four years,” said Phelps. “[He’s] irreplaceable, irreplaceable. We will not have a replacement for him.”
In fact, the most recent statistician for St. Paul Catholic also took in the game at Westbrook which really wasn’t all that surprising as former players always seem to pop up during the season to watch the squad compete.
“I lost a kid a couple of years ago to graduation, Joe Waida, [and] couldn’t replace him,” said Phelps. “Jack Bator came along and I’m saying, ‘Holy cow.’ Now, he didn’t replace Joe Waida, but is phenomenal at what he does. [His] attention to detail, just a tremendous guy.”
Senior guard Eli Kennedy just couldn’t catch a break this year as injury and sickness played havoc with the long-range shooter.
He managed to average just over two points-per-game but he was a big part of the rotation when he was healthy and ready to go.
“Eli had mono at the end of soccer and then he was out 10 games and then he came back and got a concussion and then he was out two weeks and then he came back and he got the flu and he was out” again said Phelps. “But he never whined, he never complained and he never made excuses and he did the best he could. [He] contributed.”
Kennedy stepped up his offense in the state tournament and during the second half of St. Paul Catholic’s first round game against Terryville, he drained three big three-pointers to keep the pesky ‘Roos at bay.
“He had a tremendous game in the postseason,” said Phelps of the Terryville tilt. “I know he’ll remember the Terryville game when he knocked down the three threes. [His] number was called, he answered the bell [and] he kept himself prepared. He just didn’t have the whole season to prepare.”
And then there were the contributions by back-up guard Tommy Houle who also made big sacrifices to the program in terms of playing time and the like.
“Tommy Houle is why we coach,” said Phelps. “It’s just, any time you think about getting out of coaching, you think about a Tommy Houle and that’s the kid that brings you back. Every day at practice, [he’s] the hardest-working kid. Never looked for minutes, never looked for anything.”
Houle nearly got into every game this year and spelled his backcourt mates when they needed a quick rest.
He understood his role and played it to perfection as a valued member of the St. Paul Catholic boys basketball program.
“We had an open conversation,” said Phelps of Houle. “He understood what his value was to the team and he executed his value to the team beyond reproach. Any time he entered the game, he affected the game with a tip, with a steal, with a layup, with defense. [He is] a tremendous teammate. [He] hung around with the guys. There’s not a selfish bone in his body. [He] understood those ahead of him might have been more talented basketball-wise.”
“We’re proud for a kid like that to refer to me as his coach.”
That senior class helped make the team as successful as it was, competing and playing into the middle of March.
“If you don’t have those pieces, you don’t play on March 13,” said Phelps of his senior core.
Individuals don’t make a team successful but it’s the entire program and from the players, to the statistical engineer, to the coaches, the volunteers and the personnel like St. Paul Catholic Athletic Director David Dennehy, that whole group of individuals puts the entire puzzle together.
“I’m proud for every kid that wears a St. Paul Catholic uniform,” said Phelps. “I’m proud of what they sacrificed for us. I’m proud of the guys that I have the honor to call my staff, my family, my son, my very dearest friends and other volunteers that we have throughout [the program]. I’m proud of those guys.”
“I’m proud of the people that come to our games, I’m proud of the people that support us.”
“It’s a family, it’s an organization…it’s kids that we see that turn into young men. We like to think that most of the time, we’re doing the right thing.”
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