Each year as he continues to help grow the program, Ryan Ott has increased the difficulty of Amistad’s regular-season boys basketball schedule.
That’s not always easy when you are an independent school. But Amistad was able to fill its 20 games and, with Friday’s win over University, clinched its fourth straight bid to the CIAC state tournament and sixth in its ninth year of varsity existence.
“If you go back and track it, look at the names and look at the record and success of the teams we played, each year there has been gradual strength of the schedule,” Ott said. “We added Stratford and Guilford. We didn’t schedule all these games to go 20-0. We scheduled them to face adversity, learn and grow from it. We’ve learned how to win tough games and lost some really close games to really tough teams.”
Amistad had the lead in the final minute against both East Hampton, one of three remaining undefeated teams, and Creed in December and ended up losing both games. But the team did beat Stratford on the road and went toe to toe with host Guilford, undefeated at the time, for three quarters before falling.
Amistad has been a competitive basketball program while building quite the academic reputation. According to U.S. News and World Report, Amistad finished No. 1 in Connecticut last year, based on their performance on state-required tests and how well the students are prepared for college.
Ott said the school draws from three middle schools: Elm City College Prep and Amistad Academy Middle School in New Haven and Achievement First Bridgeport Academy.
“Even if families want to come, they have to win a lottery spot (either in elementary or middle school),” Ott said.
Junior A.J. Edwards is Amistad’s leading scorer (21 points per game). He was the starting point guard, but moved to the shooting guard to make room for freshman Eli Blackwell.
“They are both high IQ players and both very tough players,” Ott said. “A.J. has been a point guard his whole life. They both have played point guard at different points, but based on what we saw, we moved A.J. over to the two and he has done an amazing job increasing his offensive production while keeping teammates involved at same time.”
Amistad’s four seniors (Will Davis, Ifeanyi Ferguson, Robert Reed and Tariq Sullivan) “came in freshman year when we went 18-3 and helped the program turn the corner They deserve a lot of credit.”
Amistad is a part of the inaugural Independent Conference Tournament, a four-team tournament after the regular season concludes. Former Constitution State Conference teams Capital Prep and University, along with former Central Connecticut Conference team Weaver, are also in it. It will be held Feb. 26 and 28 at Capital Prep.
“How much all of this (the schedule) helps, we are about to find out,” Ott said.