Shelton boys basketball looks to recover from lost season

Vinny DeFeo will move from 6th man into the starting lineup.

Vinny DeFeo will move from 6th man into the starting lineup.

David G. Whitham / For Hearst Connecticut Media

The Shelton High boys’ basketball has been hamstrung by COVID-19 in multiple ways and the ongoing pandemic continues to haunt coach Brian Gardiner’s Gaels.

Shelton brought a 17-3 regular season record last spring into the Class LL tourney. After winning its opener, the season was shutdown.

“It was a very difficult afternoon,” Gardiner remembers. “We started off prepping for our state game with Ledyard. We had won the day before (March 9). We were all set, then about midway through school - well it was incredibly fast it seemed like 20 minutes - and everything fell apart.

“After school we met as a team and there were a bunch of sad teenagers, I’ll tell you that. They were really focused on the Mohegan Sun (state finals). There are no guarantees obviously, but I think we had a good chance (17-4) and the players certainly wanted a shot at it.”

With COVID running rampant, star players Brian Belade and Melvin Kolenovic opted out and turned to Prep schools to compete for in their senior year.

Shelton began workouts in the fall, only to have the season brought to a halt once more. The Gaels haven’t done anything as a team in over a month.

“We didn’t have an off-season, plus losing those two guys, we’ll be cramming a lot of lessons into a short period of time when and if the season returns,” Gardiner said about the proposed Jan. 19 starting date.”

Apart from sending them a text about what they can do and the potential start of the season, Gardiner’s hands are tied. The district has told coaches that the positivity rate is too high in the area for them to follow CIAC guidelines to do training in groups of 4.

“Some guys are doing hour-training sessions, guys are lifting on their own, that is all they can really do,” said Gardiner, who is assisted by Chris Lynn. “Summer leagues got cancelled. In the fall we were able to play in a league, but it got cut short (last two games). We were conditioning three days in the fall, lifting and running. At the same time as the school we got shutdown.”

When Gardiner met with his team in September, he addressed the elephant in the room - the departure of Belade, a 6-foot-3 point guard, and Kolenovic, a 6-foor-8 center. Belade averaged 18.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in earning second-team All-SCC honors. Kolenovic doubled his sophomore average to 12.3 points and 12.3 rebounds. He blocked 3.5 shots a game.

“Everyone understands that they left because of the virus. They didn’t leave for the heck of it. If this virus never happened, they’d be here with them and we would be playing our second game tonight (the 19th),” Gardiner said. “They understand that those guys were getting recruited and that they might not have a season. Belade is playing post-grad at Fork Union Military (Va.). I was able to watch a few games and he is doing very well. They are off now until Jan. 13. Melvin’s team (Bridgton Academy (Me.) has not played any games. I’m not sure if they are going to be able to play. He has been able to practice.”

Gavin Rohlman and Jay Cimmino are team captains.

“Gavin started every game last year and is going to have a lot on his plate because he will handle the ball a lot of the time on top of what he was already doing,” Gardiner said of his 6-foot-3 forward. “Jay is a 5-9 senior guard and can get on a roll shooting from the outside. He wasn’t in the rotation last year, so the more time we can get him on the court the better.”

Shelton boasts four players with varsity experience, Rohlman, Robert Correia, Randy Mones and Vinny DeFeo.

“Robert Correia is going to handle the ball. His biggest strength is that he pushes the tempo. We like to run and that is what he likes to do too. He will get the ball up the court fast. He is also quick defensively; he is a pain in the neck because of his quickness. We’ll ask him to get us playing at the pace we will be playing at,” Gardiner said about the 5-foot-9 guard.

“Randy was our 7th man last year. He is an undersized (6-foot-1) power forward and we’ll ask him to be an undersized center with Gavin playing the 4 (forward),” Gardiner said. “Vinny is a 6-2 forward and played a lot as our 6th man. We need him to be a scorer for sure, he can shoot.”

The problem is getting players acclimated to their new roles.

“What hurts these guys is that we haven’t had an offseason to get them ready. They played hard in the fall season but there are things we must do better. I wish we had more time to let them get used to more prominent roles,” Gardiner said.

Peri Basimakopoulos, an All-State player now at King’s College, was lost to graduation. With him he took a put-it-in-the-book 20-plus point game. So, who will Gardiner turn to as spot-up shooters?

We have a couple of guys with Vinny, Robert and Tim Hilser,” Gardiner said. “Tim is a sophomore and he is going to play a lot this year. He can knock down shots from the outside.”

Gardiner, a can-do coach, is keeping that approach through all the doubts.

“Like most teams, we will have to shake the rust off,” he said. “Our guys are going to play hard and will get better the more time we have on the court. Whenever it starts, we have a lot of work to do in a short period of time. I’m sure my guys will be ready.”

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