Shelton High will bump down a division in state play, but company in the Oronoque Division of the Southern Connecticut Conference is going to be very challenging.
“Our division is probably the hardest division in the SCC with Notre Dame, Career and Fairfield Prep, along with us and East Haven,” head coach Brian Gardiner said. “But I will tell you that my team will not be intimidated by any opponent. Hopefully the execution gets us to where it needs to be to beat the better teams.”
The best teams overall in the conference, according to Gardiner, include Hamden, Hillhouse, Notre Dame and Career.
Shelton went 3-17 and did not qualify for the Division II state tournament a year ago. Divisions are based on a program’s record over the last three years, as well as male enrollment.
Getting to the playoffs will take some improvement on the part of his team, but Gardiner has confidence the Gaels can get it done.
“This team works really hard. We have good scoring ability,” he said. “We have a lot of varsity experience unlike last year. We are really focused on winning. We are determined to put (3-17) in our rear view mirror.”
Gardiner isn’t putting a ceiling on his team.
“Our main goal is to win enough games to get a home game or home games in the postseason and, once we get there we want to make a run and advance as far as possible,” Gardiner said.
What will it take for the Gaels earn not only SCC and state playoff berths but home court advantage to begin the playoffs?
“A high level of intensity every time we step on the court — practice and games — attention to detail on both ends of the floor and a refuse-to-lose attitude,” he said. “Defense, and how well we play it, will determine how successful we will be. Our motto this year is ‘All In.’ These players are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Shelton graduated Will Ciccone (seven rebounds per game), Kyle Davis (10 points per game) and Matt Hunyadi.
Senior captains are 6-foot-1 forward Kevin Belden and 6-1 guard Brian Berritto (19.6 points, four rebounds and three assists per game).
“I expect Brian Berritto will be one of the best players in the SCC this season,” Gardiner said. “He’s a three-year starter and is one of the best scorers in the conference. It’s exciting to have a player of his caliber, and we have a lot of good pieces around him.”
That support will come from 5-9 senior guard Martin Dominguez, 5-9 senior guard Jakai Barnes (transfer from Westhill in Stamford), 6-1 junior guard Peri Basimakopolous (14 points per game, 40 three pointers), 6-2 sophomore guard Brian Belade (six points per game), 6-6 sophomore forward Melvin Kolenovic (transfer from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, NY) and 5-8 sophomore guard Robert Correia.
“We are going to run the ball a lot on offense, we have good scoring ability, and we are going to be really scrappy and hustle all over the floor, which should make our defense improve from last year,” Gardiner said.
It all gets started when Masuk of Monroe visits on Saturday, Dec. 15, at 8.
After a Dec. 21 visit to Lyman Hall at 7, the Gaels will participate in New Canaan’s Holiday Tournament. The Gaels will take on Southington on Dec. 27 at 5 o’clock, then play either New Canaan or East Windsor two days later, at 5 or 7. Shelton returns home to take on East Haven Jan. 4 at 7.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Gardiner said. “This team has worked extremely hard this off-season to have a really successful year. The players are hyper-focused on winning and doing things the way they need to be done to win.
“It’s a great group of guys. We have strong veteran leadership and a lot of talent. We were fortunate to get some transfers that are going to be a big part of the varsity team.
In addition to Barnes and Kolenovic, the Gaels bring in freshman Randy Mones, a 6-foot guard from Brien McMahon, who could eventually push for varsity time.