NEW HAVEN — The plan was to rebuild the culture at West Haven High and it was deeper than basketball for Ty Sullivan when he took his first head coaching position in July of 2018.
“The wins will come. It is all about establishing a culture and making sure the student-athletes have a plan when they graduate, whether it is a plan of going to an institution of higher learning, joining the work force or doing something positive after. We have to instill that,” Sullivan said upon getting the job in July of 2018.
The wins have come for the Westies. And in a year where no one was certain whether there would even be a basketball season, West Haven put the pieces together to earn the top seed in the SCC Division I tournament.
Three games later, the Westies are now champions.
West Haven defeated No. 3 Notre Dame-West Haven 69-49 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center Friday afternoon for their first SCC championship.
“I knew this was possible when I started to see how the kids bought in,” Sullivan said. “Relationships are everything. I have great relationships with my kids. … When kids know you care, they will go through a wall for you. I have a group of kids who believe in me the same way I believe in them. Tonight, they cemented their legacy.”
— Joe Morelli (@nhrJoeMorelli) March 26, 2021
West Haven (12-1) hasn’t made an appearance in an SCC final since 1996. Sullivan remembers who came before him, Reggie Hayes and Harry Bosley, and made sure to thank his predecessors, his bosses and those who helped hire him.
“(Bosley) laid the foundation before I stepped in,” Sullivan said. “We talked about putting something on the wall, put something in the Neil Cavallaro Gym and that was the goal from Day 1 (this season).”
Senior guard Malcolm Duncanson told Hearst Connecticut Media that at one point early in his tenure, he felt West Haven was looked upon as the “laughingstocks” of the SCC.
“It’s a new day at West Haven High,” Duncanson said. “We didn’t panic, we stayed composed. We stayed together as a team. One defensive stop at a time.”
Defense was a trademark of the program Sullivan grew up in and then went on to coach in at Hillhouse. West Haven played great defense on Friday after Notre Dame had early success from the perimeter.
West Haven went on a 33-8 run that began late in the first quarter and extended into the second half. Notre Dame didn’t score a single point in the third quarter until there was 1:39 left. The Green Knights, the only team to defeat the Westies this season, finished with three points in the quarter.
“That was definitely motivation for us,” Duncanson said about the lone loss. “I can’t remember the last time West Haven High School beat Notre Dame in a basketball game. It’s been a while, right?”
The last time West Haven did beat its cross-city rival was Feb. 17, 2015.
Kyle Kearson led the Westies with 17 points while Eli Blackwell and Kairon Hooks added 16 and 14 points, respectively.
Among Hooks’ points, included a thunderous dunk in the fourth quarter. Hooks, who transferred in from Notre Dame at the start of the season, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“After that first game, we knew what we had to do. We knew the game plan,” Hooks said. “I lost to Wilbur Cross two times in a row (with Notre Dame in the SCC final) and then to beat the team I lost with it’s great. I give it to Coach Ty. He put in the game plan and we just executed it.”
Notre Dame (10-3) knocked down five 3-pointers in the opening quarter to lead 21-10. But the Green Knights struggled from that point on until they got things going in the fourth quarter. But by then, it was too late.
This is the third straight trip to the SCC final and their third straight loss for the Green Knights. Notre Dame, the eighth-ranked team in the latest GameTimeCT poll, has made the final in four of the last five seasons, but is still in search of its first championship.
“It’s like roulette, right? You can get black five times in a row, it’s still 50-50 on the next spin,” Notre Dame coach Jason Shea said. “That’s the same thing playing these games. It’s not like you get there so much that eventually you are going to win. You hope that is the case but you have to go out there and win the game, They outplayed us, especially in the second half and that was the result.”
Timaury Gay led Notre Dame with 12 points while Ben Carroll and Andrew Lazarre each added 10.
Player of the Game
Javaun Calhoun, West Haven: There are plenty of stars on West Haven’s team, but Calhoun was able to play very good defense on Notre Dame senior center Ben Carroll, who scored just 10 points, three after the first quarter.
“I owe all of this to them. The players make the coach.”
— West Haven coach Ty Sullivan