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Just don't challenge NFA in Jeopardy

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: The Day

Published December 31. 2013 4:00AM

Norwich - Memo to the rest of you basketball schools in the Eastern Connecticut Conference:

You're just lucky the league title will be settled on the floor and not by essay. Because let me just say you'd be no match for the NFA Wildcats.

OK. There's Nick Crooks, the senior, who has applied to Pennsylvania, Harvard and something called the Colorado School of Mines, described as a "research university devoted to engineering and applied science with special expertise in the development and stewardship of the Earth's natural resources."

There's Marcus Outlow, the senior going to Boston College, the Ivy of Catholic Schools. (Sorry, couldn't resist).

There's Brandon Drabinski, the junior who is Ivy by osmosis, growing up at Brown, where his dad, Marek, is the baseball coach.

And sources in the bleachers Monday night said assistant coach Garvin McAlister is a whiz at Jeopardy.

Whoa. Bet they know the sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.

"Well," Crooks was saying Monday after the Wildcats won again, "there's court smart and school smart. They're completely different. They don't coincide. In school, they tell you and you have to regurgitate it. Court smarts, you have to know them for yourself."

Let the record show Crooks got "coincide" and regurgitate" in that answer, thus reinforcing the whole smart guys thing.

And not that the Wildcats are helpless even with the knowledge that an essay won't decide the league champion. They are the league's lone unbeaten team today, having defeated Kolbe Cathedral, East Lyme, Hall and Manchester. Were this college basketball, the ECC would owe the Wildcats for helping the nonconference RPI.

The Wildcats nearly lost a 13-point halftime lead Monday night against Manchester, but figured it out and won 50-45. So far so perfect for new coach Chris Guisti, a 13-year assistant under former coach Neal Curland, who retired after last season to pursue a career in administration.

"The ECC is tougher than it's been in a number of years," Guisti said. "(Manchester) exposed some things. Now we get a little bit more humble and go to practice and say 'listen, we didn't go into the second half and blow them out like we had been doing.'

"I knew we would be competitive in the first four games. We weren't playing Christ The King," Guisti said. "But did I expect that things were going to turn out like this? No. But when you have a senior-laden team, you have an advantage."

Guisti wasn't going with the whole "we have the smartest team in America" theme, even with Crooks, Outlow and Drabinski. But he did say this:

"We have smart kids and that helps. Absolutely," he said. "Let's not underestimate how experience relates to intelligence on the court. When you've got a guy like (senior point guard) Ramel Williams who has played a lot … ask any coach what they want to start their team with, they'll all say a point guard who's not going to panic."

Guisti makes a point, too, about the ECC, which is usually a punching bag for sports in and out of the region. Is there a great team here? Maybe not. But NFA, Ledyard, New London, Woodstock, Waterford, Fitch and Bacon Academy all appear to be varying degrees of pretty good, which should make for a decent winter here.

Plus, a successful team at NFA stirs the jealousies of other league members who resent its size. Always helps us instigators.

"Coach Juice (Guisti), coach Garv (McAlister) all tell us that we can beat anybody on this schedule," Outlow said. "We've played together for a long time. We feel like we can compete with anybody."

And if they can't, they can always challenge them to a debate.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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