The Platt Tech boys basketball team has hosted its own Christmas tournament for close to two decades, yet never took home the title.
That is, until last week — and the Panthers did so in convincing fashion.
Tyler Dowdy led the way with 21 points and 10 rebounds and Tahquell Cadle added 19 points and 11 rebounds to help the Panthers beat Sheehan 79-61 in the championship final last Thursday. It’s been the same four teams in the field for years — Foran beat Bullard-Havens in the consolation game — but Platt Tech had always been just the good host.
“Against Sheehan, he (head coach Joe Gaetano) uses 10 guys. My fear was, can we outlast them?” Platt Tech coach Jon Gersz said. “My team tends to be seven deep. The kids gave me everything they had. For school pride, that gets it back on track. Now we have put ourselves in a position to gain a higher level of respect.”
For Gersz, in his first season as head coach, the win was a little bittersweet. He once played for Sheehan under Mike Papale. And as he freely admits, Gersz, now 41, still “bleeds burgundy and gold.”
But the health and physical education teacher at Platt Tech has more on his mind than just winning a Christmas tournament. He wants the kids to keep believing in themselves and build off last week’s success.
“We need to improve physically, mentally and emotionally,” Gersz said. “When we all sat down (before the season) to discuss things, I told them, ‘I need you as much as you will need me. We need each other. That’s the only way to get through this.’”
Cadle is among the six seniors in the program. The other five are Keenan Little, Dave Lcarelli, Dan Luperella, Markel Simon and Jacob Tamobrino.
All were a part of the Chris Burnham tenure. Burnham left in the off-season to coach at Branford.
Gersz likes to call each game a chapter. That’s among the discussions the team has. Winning the tournament last week, that’s just two chapters. New chapters come this week with games against Vinal Tech Wednesday and Wolcott Tech on Friday.
“We don’t know how it will conclude,” Gersz said. “It’s nice we win a holiday tournament, but it’s a holiday tournament. We’ll enjoy it, then go back and work hard. This is big for them, but just winning a holiday tournament is not where we want to be yet.”
What Gersz and the Panthers want is a banner hanging in the gym. The CTC is back — the Connecticut Technical Conference now that the Constitution State Conference has disbanded. While winning a league title is a little more attainable now, it’s still a longshot with the likes of Prince Tech around — a finalist last year in the CSC tournament.
“There’s no reason why a tech school kid can’t have the same dream as a public school kid,” Gersz said. “Our goal is to put a banner up in our gym, within our conference. For the state tournament, we want to qualify. That’s being realistic.”
Just being away on a long road trip with a chance to spend time together and bond would have been good enough for Notre Dame-West Haven coach Jason Shea to deem the trip to Orlando, Florida, a success.
But in the end, the Green Knights were in Orlando last week to compete, and compete they did: Notre Dame went 3-0 in its division of the KSA Events Tournament at Walt Disney World.
“Connecticut basketball is much better than people think around the country,” Shea said. “Our league toughness in the SCC is obvious when we play teams from other states.”
The Green Knights opened play in the tournament Wednesday, defeating Beckman (Calif.) 57-55. Then Notre Dame beat Cathedral Prep (Pa.) 64-60 in the semifinals Friday before topping Oxbridge Academy (Fla.) 65-61 to win the Gray Division bracket.
Shea said the tournament organizers “found us and kept reaching out to see if we can go down.” The school decided last spring to make it happen.
“We have a great alumni base, really great parents and the school community and administration behind us,” Shea said. “I think we raised over $37,000 in just over two months of fund-raising, so were really lucky and the kids are very fortunate in that regard.”
Shea’s hopes were the trip would build chemistry with the players hanging out together for so many days, getting a chance to visit the Disney complex.
“The time and effort to raise the money was definitely worth it. The team had an exceptionally positive experience in terms of fun, bonding and competition,” Shea said.