Paschal Chukwu swats away a shot and teammate Tremont Waters comes up with the loose ball.
Waters pushes the ball up the floor and hands it off to Jared Wilson-Frame, who gets it to Mustapha Heron on the wing. Heron drives the ball to the hole strong but the shot is off the mark.
Tyrique Jones swoops in for the offensive rebound and kicks it back out to Waters, who puts up the 3-pointer and … it’s good!
Such a scenario will never play out in a college basketball game. But imagine if it did.
You could field a pretty good roster of players who were either born in or grew up in Connecticut and are currently playing Division I college ball.
Waters, Heron, Jones, Chukwu and Wilson-Frame might be your starting five, but you could bring Cane Broome or Khalil Dukes or Eli Pemberton or Mike McGuirl or Raiquan Clark or Isaac Vann off the bench.
And that’s not even counting Steve Enoch, currently sitting out as a transfer from UConn to Louisville.
Point is, Division I college basketball is as flush with Connecticut-based talent as it’s been in a long while. Maybe ever.
“I think Connecticut basketball in the last seven, eight years has been getting consistently better,” said Notre Dame-West Haven coach Jason Shea. “The AAU basketball scene in New England is very strong. Players, as a result, are playing 10, 11 months out of the year. They’re getting coaching throughout the year, they’re training year-round, and as a result, they’re getting a lot better.”
Just look across the landscape, from Long Island to Manhattan (Kansas), Boston to Baton Rouge, Quinnipiac to the Queen City, Connecticut players are thriving in the D-I ranks. Two of the top players in the Southeastern Conference — Waters and Heron — hail from New Haven and Waterbury, respectively. Two others — Jones and Broome — are crosstown rivals in Cincinnati.
There are four Connecticut products on Iona’s roster alone. In fact, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is home to no less than 11 Nutmeggers — including Dukes, who leads the league in scoring at Niagara.
In all, there are at least 30 players who were either born in or grew up in Connecticut currently populating Division I rosters. And that’s not even counting Division II or III, which would likely at least triple that number.
“I think it’s tremendous,” said Chaise Daniels, who grew up in Meriden, played at Hillhouse and is now a senior forward at Quinnipiac. “I think it’s amazing to see guys I grew up with, played basketball with a lot in Connecticut, put out for the state.”
SECond to None
Waters is the best of the bunch. Barely six months after graduating from Notre Dame-West Haven, the 5-foot-11 point guard is a bona fide star at LSU. He leads the league in steals (2.1 per game), is second in assists (5.9) and eighth in scoring (15.8).
Did we mention he’s just a freshman?
“I can’t tell you I’m surprised at all,” said Shea. “When he left, I told my coaching staff he had the opportunity to potentially play one year and be in the NBA. He’s so skilled, and when you have that type of skill set, you can pretty much play at any level. He’s a lot more athletic than people give him credit for.”
What’s perhaps more surprising is that, in a league that plays all its home games south of the Mason-Dixon line, there are two Connecticut natives who grew up about 20 miles apart among the SEC’s top players. Heron, a sophomore at Auburn, ranks 11th in the league in scoring at 15 per contest.
Heron, a 6-5 guard, is happy to see his former Waterbury Storm travel teammate’s success.
“I think it’s well-deserved,” Heron said. “Very few people know how hard (Waters) worked when he was younger, the type of regimen he was on.”
Hey, probably don’t jump pic.twitter.com/qx6yPm5pSm
— Barstool Auburn (@WarDamnStool) January 21, 2018
Waters and Heron are hardly the only two Nutmeggers standing out in power conferences. In the ACC, Wilson-Frame, a junior from Hartford, is averaging 12.1 points per game for Pittsburgh. Chukwu, a 7-footer who was born in Nigeria but played at Fairfield Prep for two years and now calls Westport home, is second in the league in blocked shots at 3.1 per game.
Connecticut natives are making strong contributions for some of the nation’s top teams. Broome, of East Hartford, is averaging 8.6 points per game for No. 9 Cincinnati after transferring from Sacred Heart and sitting out last season. Right across town, Jones, a 6-8 sophomore from Bloomfield, is one of the top rebounders for eighth-ranked Xavier.
Out in Big 12 country, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber recently scrapped plans to redshirt McGuirl. The East Catholic High product has played in the Wildcats’ last four games.
Yup, Connecticut players are contributing in nearly all the power conferences. Except, you’ll notice, at UConn. The Huskies don’t have a single scholarship player from the state after Norwalk’s Enoch transferred last spring.
The Huskies were never heavy on Heron while he was starring at Sacred Heart High, and the feeling was somewhat mutual.
“I just didn’t want to stay at home,” he recently told Hearst Media Connecticut. “I took care of my recruiting early.”
Heron committed to Pittsburgh in January, 2014, de-committed a little over a year later and wound up pledging to Auburn in August of 2015.
UConn showed more interest in Waters, especially after he backed out of his commitment to Georgetown last spring. But the interest just wasn’t there on Waters’ part, according to members of the UConn coaching staff. Will Wade offered Waters the keys to the car at LSU, and he’s taken off.
No league in the country has a heavier Connecticut flavor than the MAAC.
“I think Connecticut’s had about a six-year run of a pretty good group of high school players,” said Iona assistant coach Jared Grasso, a former Quinnipiac standout. “For us, we kind of saw that and were able to capitalize.”
Indeed, four of Iona’s 13 scholarship players are Nutmeggers — Hartford’s E.J. Crawford (11.9 ppg), Windsor product and UMass grad transfer Zach Lewis (8.4), Stamford’s Shadrac Casimir (8.2) and Hamden’s C.J. Seaforth, a freshman.
Dukes, the Hartford product who transferred to Niagara from USC a couple of years ago, leads the MAAC in scoring at 21.1 per game.
Quinnipiac has a pair — Daniels, who is second on the team in scoring, and Rich Kelly, the Shelton product who has handled starting point guard duties as a freshman with aplomb.
Waterbury’s Malik Petteway is at Robert Morris, Stamford’s Jeremiah Livingston at Saint Peter’s, Farmington’s Obi Momah at Marist and New Haven’s Jalanni White, who was Waters’ teammate last year at Notre Dame-West Haven, is key a freshman off the bench for first-place Canisius.
“In general, it’s a very good mid-major conference that’s gonna recruit regionally,” said Grasso. “So, it makes sense there would be Connecticut kids in the league.”
Besides Waters and White, other New Haven products are making their marks. Raiquan Clark, a junior, is averaging 17.4 points per game at Long Island University. And Walter Whyte is scoring 7.9 per game as a frosh at Boston University.
Pemberton, of Middletown, is averaging 15.2 per game at Hofstra. Vann, of Bridgeport, scores at a 10.6 clip at VCU. Coppin State, of all places, has two Connecticut players (Hartford’s Keandre Fair and Wethersfield’s Jordan Hardwick) and an assistant coach (Wallingford’s Phil Gaetano). Waterbury’s Tyrn Flowers is with Clark at LIU, sitting out after transferring from UMass. Wethersfield’s Mark Carbone is sitting out at New Hampshire after transferring from San Diego. Hartford’s Jaecee Martin is at Sacred Heart, Trumbull’s Thomas Nolan at Farfield.
The list goes on and on, with no signs of stopping.
“I hope more guys continue to keep on going to college to play basketball and living out their dreams,” said Daniels, “keep playing well and keep making a name for Connecticut basketball.”