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Fairfield Prep's Tarpey is more than just a basketball star

Published 4:26 pm, Thursday, February 2, 2012

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  • Terry Tarpey, age 5, soars through the air for an easy dunk. Photo: Contributed Photo
    Terry Tarpey, age 5, soars through the air for an easy dunk. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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After 31-plus minutes, Terry Tarpey could finally breathe.

For the better part of four quarters, he had done just about everything for the Fairfield Prep basketball team, and the Jesuits held a 79-61 lead over rival West Haven with 53.4 seconds remaining.

Reserve forward Xavier Frey replaced Tarpey, and as the all-state swingman left the court, he got a standing ovation from the crowd at Alumni Hall.

Tarpey's stat line -- 26 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, nine blocks and two steals -- tells a lot about the 6-4 senior's ability on the court.

"I feel like my strength is being very versatile," Tarpey said after that game. "I'd take a game where I got 15 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists over 30 points and nothing else."

Yet the Stamford resident's stats don't tell the whole story. Scratch the surface and you begin to discover a young man with deeply rooted drive, an innate ability to make his teammates better and an unrelenting will to be the best at anything he tries.

Tarpey has worked hardest at basketball. And in the fall, he will enroll at the College of William and Mary in Virginia on a full, Division I basketball scholarship.

"Terry is extremely explosive and athletic and joins our program as a proven winner," William and Mary coach Tony Shaver said. "(He's) been very successful competing at a high level."

But those who know Tarpey best say his success is reflected, too, in the way he's perceived by teammates and competitors -- and how he carries himself off the court.

He embraces humility, seemingly is all he does; mentors younger kids without prompting; and has won the respect of teachers at a demanding academic institution.

Fitting Genes

Terence M. Tarpey III made his name on courts in Connecticut and New York City, but he was born in France -- in Poissy, just outside Paris, on March 2, 1994. And he was born to play basketball.

The hospital where he took his first breath is across the street from a gym where his father practiced while playing in a French professional league.

Tarpey's dad, Terry Jr., was a 6-4 shooting guard at New York University in the mid-1980s and remains the school's career scoring leader with 1,778 points.

It was there he met Ann Dzenutis, who played both basketball and soccer at NYU. The couple was married after they graduated, and soon after moved to France when the pro club St. Etienne called and asked Terry Jr. to play.

The St. Etienne club became Poissy, and finally Le Mans in the top French league. Meanwhile, Dzenutis gave birth to the couple's first child, daughter Kaitlyn, and then Terry. When Terry Jr.'s career ended after a decade, the family moved back to New York.

Terry Jr. was coaching at Nassau Community College and the family was living on Long Island when he and Ann divorced in the late 1990s. Ann moved to Stamford with the two children to be closer to her job in finance at KPMG.

The parents remain cordial and sit together at the younger Terry's games.

Tarpey may have basketball in his genes, but achievement crosses many disciplines in the family. Kaitlyn, 21 and a junior at Pace University, was an accomplished runner and soccer player at Loomis Chafee School in Windsor.

But she gained greater distinction as Miss Teen America 2008. Despite her role as the older sister, Kaitlyn has learned from Terry.

"He's taught me how to be humble," she said.

But he also is one of her supporters.

"When I won Miss Teen USA, I looked out into the crowd," she said, "and there was Terry jumping up and down for me."

City Roots

As a kid in Stamford, Terry Tarpey grew up playing a variety of local recreation department sports -- soccer, baseball, basketball, football. You name it, Terry competed in it.

But his mother knew right away which was his favorite.

"I knew he loved basketball, because it was the only sport where he wouldn't cry when he would get frustrated," Dzenutis said.

When Terry's skills were good enough for AAU basketball, his dad's New York ties won out over Connecticut programs.. He began playing AAU in Westchester with the New York Panthers, then his father heard about the Riverside Church Hawks in the Bronx.

Terry has played with them since, including three years under former Iona College standout Tony Hargraves. The former Division I point guard has seen Terry develop from a role player into an AAU star, earning national recognition for himself and his team.

"He's always outworked better players," Hargraves said. "He's locked down some of the best players, and we've won games against teams that had four D 1 players or seven D 1 players."

Tarpey's defense is helped by very long arms -- his wingspan is 6-10 -- yet, Hargraves says Tarpey's greatest assets are his athleticism and the toughness he gradually developed as a suburban white kid competing against talented inner-city players who initially were mentally and physically tougher.

"Here comes this white kid who was 6-1 and could scratch his ankles without bending over," the African-American Hargraves said. "He grew up playing with the inner-city kids and was not scared to play against them."

And then when Tarpey sprouted up to his current height, 6-4, his wingspan allowed him to play like he's 6-6, Hargraves said.

Tarpey uses it to his advantage when guarding players like West Haven's Tieron Jackson. When they squared off Jan. 20, Tarpey held New Haven County's leading scorer (25 ppg) to 20 points and blocked six of his shots.

"He's a good ball-handler," Tarpey said. "But I learned by playing against kids like that in the inner-city."

Why Fairfield Prep?

Terry has lived in Stamford since he was a pre-schooler and attended Trinity Catholic Middle School. So why does he commute 20 miles to Fairfield Prep?

That was a matter of contentious debate in the family. Terry and his father wanted him to go to Trinity Catholic.

Dzenutis' wanted to nudge Terry out of his comfort zone, and the decision ultimately has hers. She gave him the choice of going to Prep or to boarding school, as his sister had done.

"Terry is a homebody," Kaitlyn said. "He didn't want to go to boarding school because he wanted to be with our mom."

"It would have been too easy for him to go to Trinity Catholic," Dzenutis said. "I figured if he was good enough, he would make a name for himself at Fairfield Prep."

Prep's academics were a key factor.

Tarpey made the Prep varsity as a freshman, coming off the bench. But the team finished 6-14, missed the states and had a group of "entitled" seniors that made him feel like an outcast, Tarpey said.

"They were terrible to me."

After that first year, his mother relented and gave Terry the option of transferring to Trinity. But he stayed at Prep, started as a sophomore and then blossomed last year under new coach Leo Redgate.

"(Redgate's) commitment to winning has been great for us," Terry's dad said.

Tarpey last winter led the Jesuits to the Class LL state finals, where they lost to St. Joseph. In a state quarterfinal win over Xavier, he had 30 points, 11 rebounds, five steals and hit a buzzer-beating runner. It was special for a couple of reasons.

"That game against Xavier was my best high school game," Terry said. "The school united after (Prep senior) Ryan Brennan died (after a two-year bout with cancer) and that run was special for the school."

Tarpey's interests at Prep go beyond basketball. He's in the Jeopardy Club and a member of the "Bomb Squad" cheering section, although he obviously doesn't participate when he's on the court.

Not forgetting how he was snubbed as a freshman, Tarpey serves as freshman point guard Tommy Nolan's mentor.

"He's been great to me," Nolan said. "He's gone out of his way to be nice and say hi to me in the halls."

Despite his status as the best player in school history, Tarpey remains humble.

"I want someone [at Prep] to pass me some day," he said.

Bright Future

William and Mary won the Tarpey sweepstakes when he signed there in December, citing the level of play, a love for Williamsburg, Va., and a perfect fit. His final choices came down to William and Mary, Lafayette College and Davidson College -- all strong academic schools.

His mom says the choice was predictable.

"He'd drawn a picture at age 10 with William and Mary on it," Dzenutis said.

Terry is mostly concerned about getting playing time in college. He's interested in engineering but knows the academics in that field are rigorous, so he may consider finance.

"I want basketball to take me as far as it can," Terry said.

His father thinks a career like his in Europe is possible, but a mother's intuition says otherwise.

"I truly believe he's going to play in the NBA," Dzenutis said.

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