With winter sports on hold, Brian Kriftcher is waiting to get into his new home in the gymnasium at Notre Dame-Fairfield.
In May, Notre Dame-Fairfield hired the former Trinity Catholic coach to be its boys basketball coach. But because the season will not begin until at least Jan. 19, Kriftcher is left waiting to see exactly what his new team will look like.
Fortunately for Kriftcher, there will be some familiar faces when practice finally begins as six players from Trinity Catholic followed their coach north up the Parkway, three of whom are senior starters.
Kriftcher coached Trinity Catholic the last two seasons after being an assistant under Mike Walsh, who will be joining the staff at Notre Dame.
Trinity Catholic closed this past June. The school announced it was closing in February and the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the CIAC postseason winter tournaments two weeks later, ending all sports at Trinity.
Players from Trinity were free to go to any school of their choosing and many chose Notre Dame.
Notre Dame picked up three starters from Trinity in forwards Rassoul Abakan and Akim Joseph and guard Andrew Saint-Louis.
“Akim, Rassoul and Andrew are best of friends and they really wanted to stay together after Trinity,” Kriftcher said. “As great as the history of Trinity Catholic was it doesn’t exist anymore. We are not looking at the players as Trinity guys and Notre Dame guys. Our job is to make sure they all come together and form a winning culture here. The Notre Dame kids bought in right away and so did the kids coming from Trinity.”
Three of the players are underclassmen who played JV and saw some varsity time for Trinity.
The team was able to play together in an outdoor fall league with teams from Connecticut and Westchester County, New York.
That time was not a replacement for December practices, but did serve to bring the players from different schools together for the first time.
“It felt great to be out there with the new team. They were very welcoming and friendly and made me feel comfortable right away,” Joseph said. “That’s really important to me that we have good chemistry. It was great to play with them. Getting to play in the fall will help so much in the season. We are already becoming a brotherhood, a family.”
Joseph said the decision to follow his coach was an easy one, especially with his friends joining him.
“It really helped knowing coach Kriftcher would be there. I love playing for him,” Joseph said. “Also having a lot of Trinity guys coming was exciting for me. We are already brothers and have good chemistry on the court.”
Ironically, the final game for the storied Trinity Catholic program — and the school’s last athletic event ever — was an 83-49 victory over Notre Dame in the opening round of the CIAC Division I state tournament last winter. The season was halted before the Crusaders could play again.
Kriftcher replaced interim coach Shawn Stanco, who went 4-17 in his only season at the helm.
The Lancers are getting a 6-foot-8 bruising forward and defensive stalwart in Abakan; a 6-6 forward/guard who can score inside and out in Joseph, and a slick ballhandler and slasher in Saint-Louis.
Kriftcher said all have improved and should complement the existing players at Notre Dame quite well.
“The three of them will be unrecognizable from where they were 12 months ago. Rassoul is bigger and stronger, Akim is shooting really well and I think people will be blown away with what Andrew can do,” Kriftcher said. “Notre Dame had some talented kids already here. Carmelo Ayala is a talented player and so are the brothers Gary and Vonni Bennett. We are trying to rebuild the program Notre Dame deserves and has had in the past.”
Notre Dame made four straight CIAC tournament championship game appearances from 2015-18, defeating Sacred Heart for the Division I crown in 2018.