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Pickens' Perspective: Prep basketball worthy of lofty state ranking

Published 2:57 pm, Thursday, January 3, 2013
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There were many who felt Terry Tarpey's graduation from Fairfield Prep would expose the Jesuits and their coach, Leo Redgate.

My guess is that's not happening, at least not this year.

After watching Prep improve to 6-0 --dominating a highly-skilled ND-Fairfield team, 80-64, Friday night -- the only impression I was left with was the Jesuits are one of the state's best.

Here's a news flash, too: they're not just a one-man show.

Sure, Paschal Chukwu is great. His offensive game is polished. His defense is dominant. He can affect jump shots, defensively, with his long reach. He can make 17-foot jumpers on offense

But as ND punched back, Prep's dominant 7-footer got into foul trouble. He went to the bench with Prep up 12 late in the third, and the Lancers went on a 16-10 spurt, cutting the Jesuits' advantage to only six.

Last year, any time Tarpey had to sit, Prep was in trouble. Would the same hold true with Chukwu?

Nope.

Prep proved it is seasoned, talented and for real. Thomas Nolan took over, scoring 12 of his 16 in the second half. The Jesuits scored 24 fourth-quarter points.

Nolan, the second-year varsity starter, looks more comfortable as the Jesuits' off-guard this year. He can play the No. 2 because Keith Pettway's emergence. Ryan Murphy, only a freshman, is instant-energy and can play either guard or forward.

Chukwu, Pettway, Murphy and Nolan would be 80 percent of a pretty-good starting five, but add Prep's 6-8 forward, Tim Butala, and you have one of the most dynamic lineups in the state.

"We have, I think, one of the biggest front-courts in the state," Nolan said. "We really take advantage of that."

They move the ball fluidly, and everything the Jesuits do is aggressive. Again, credit must be given to Redgate. Like him as a basketball coach or not, but for the third straight year, his team is well over .500 on Jan. 1.

This might just be the best team he's ever coached, and he's done nothing to screw it up yet.

Prep's schedule gets tough here, with Career Magnet and Hillhouse coming in the next two weeks. The Academics are the New Haven Register's No. 1 team and Career is No. 19. The Jesuits haven't beaten either in the past two seasons, and both offer a litmus test for where Prep is.

Cynics may be waiting for those games, but even if Prep drops one -- or both -- it doesn't mean much to me.

Prep's clearly one of the state's best.

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens

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