Torrington boys basketball gets major contributions from three budding stars

Torrington sophomore Connor Finn has scored 3.4 points a game while being a key to the team with rebounds, assists and steals. Marianne Killackey — Special to the Register Citizen

Torrington sophomore Connor Finn has scored 3.4 points a game while being a key to the team with rebounds, assists and steals.
Marianne Killackey — Special to the Register Citizen

TORRINGTON >> Led by a 6-10 center (Dave Canny) and an over-achieving guard (Austin Kelson), Torrington’s boys basketball team was 9-11 last year and one-and-done in the state tournament. Then Canny and Kelson graduated.

“Two weeks into (this year’s pre-season), I didn’t know how good we could be,” said Coach Eric Gamari. “I said let’s try this.”

“This” was a lineup experiment of the sort that leaves many coaches explaining, in post-game losses, “We’re young.”

For Torrington, the youth experiment — starting a freshman and two sophomores — makes magic so far in Torrington’s 6-3 season, often leaving opponents proclaiming their own youth after suffering from Torrington’s.

“We’ve played pretty well as a team,” said Gamari. “We’ve had contributions from everybody.”

Senior co-captain John McCarthy leads the team on the floor with 20 points a game, 2.4 steals. Seniors Desmond Langs (7.8 rebounds per game) and Mitch Zagrodnik (7 rebounds per game) are treasures under the basket. Seniors Spencer Mourges and Victor Diaz contribute great minutes off the bench.

Torrington’s Zak Mancini has flourished as the Red Raiders starting point guard this season, averaging 15.7 points a game and 5.8 assists per game. Laurie Gaboardi — Register Citizen

Torrington’s Zak Mancini has flourished as the Red Raiders starting point guard this season, averaging 15.7 points a game and 5.8 assists per game.
Laurie Gaboardi — Register Citizen

Still, it doesn’t work without freshman Dom Sabia and sophomores Zak Mancini and Connor Finn, all of whom play years older than their ages.

“They just play; they don’t care who it’s against,” says Gamari.

Better still, “the older guys are very accepting,” he says, describing synergism at its best: “(Sabia) is one of the biggest hustlers on the team. The younger kids push the older guys; the older guys pull the younger ones along.”

Gamari’s and his staff’s flexibility completes the formula.

“In preseason, we looked at different lineups. Scrimmages were very productive. We played everyone. Everyone had four minutes.

“I’m willing to play you if you’re willing to do what I’m asking. The younger guys do,” he said.

Credit Torrington’s football team with part of the synergy, where Finn and Mancini had key roles along with Langs.

Sabia fits in because of his size and athletic background.

“They’re competitors; they’re used to winning,” said Gamari.

For Sabia, it’s a little like taking one’s first parachute jump: there’s an advantage to the newness.

“He started the season without thinking,” said Gamari. “Now he’s had a little dip because he’s thinking.”

A bull under the basket, Sabia has the second most foul shots of anyone on the team while averaging 8.7 points a game and 5.2 rebounds. Against Crosby, ranked second in the state, Sabia came through with 17 points.

Mancini also came “out of nowhere” because he missed the entire first month of last year’s season with a knee injury from football.

“He wasn’t in on the system. People only had glimpses of him,” Gamari says.

This year, opponents see more Mancini than they want to, often in dynamic combination with McCarthy.

Torrington freshman Dom Sabia has been one of pleasant surprises, under the basket, for head coach Eric Gamari and the Red Raiders.  Pete Paguaga — Register Citizen

Torrington freshman Dom Sabia has been one of pleasant surprises, under the basket, for head coach Eric Gamari and the Red Raiders.
Pete Paguaga — Register Citizen

“He’s been solid,” said Gamari.

In his best games, Mancini (15.7 points a game) opens up on fire outside, then darts in for almost two steals a game.

In one big quarter, he spoils everybody.

“He only needs to work on his consistency,” says Gamari.

When the shooting fire is out, Mancini still brings his game on offense and defense.

“He’s a very good passer,” Gamari said — 5.8 assists a game.

Finn, with the trio’s smallest point contribution (3.4 points a game), fits in admirably in other ways.

“He doesn’t have to score as long as he gives us rebounding (3.6 per game), assists (2.8) and steals (1.3),” says Gamari.

Finn’s size helps in one more rarely-touted talent.

“One of his greatest assets is inbounding,” laughs Gamari. “You don’t understand how difficult that is. He’ll take the clipboard and study it for his reads. His size helps; your can learn to use it to your advantage.”

“They all have a nose for the ball. They tend to naturally do things,” says Gamari.

Thanks to the snow delay, the Red Raiders play back-to-back games this week — tonight at Naugatuck, Thursday at home against Sacred Heart.

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