He has played perhaps two of the most solid games in his career and because of that, Ray Featherston was walking out to midcourt to accept the Most Valuable Player trophy from Fairfield Prep athletic director Tom Curran at the conclusion of the Fairfield Prep Holiday Classic basketball tournament.

In wins over Ludlowe and Notre Dame-Fairfield, Featherston controlled the Jesuits offense. He passed. He scored. He defended. Prep had reeled off five straight wins to open the season, were ranked in the state poll and the sky -- even though many thought this would be a rebuilding year -- looked like it was going to be the limit for Featherston and the Jesuits.

But in the next game against Hillhouse, just a day before New Year's Eve, Featherston felt something pop in his knee.

The next day, he went to the doctor. It was a torn ACL. Not happy at all with that diagnosis, Featherson went out and got a second opinion. Again, torn ACL.

Season over. Career over.

"There was a little hope at the beginning that I could play. I went to my first doctor and he diagnosed a torn ACL, I asked him, `Can I play?' and he said, `No way,' " Featherston said. "So, I was upset with that so I went to a second doctor and the second one said `no way' too, so I figured there's no way. I've had to call it quits. It's frustrating."

At a recent game against Hamden, Featherson sat on the end of the Prep bench, a large knee brace on his right knee hidden under a pair of kakhi's. He says he hasn't felt any pain in his knee at all since the injury, hence the optimism, albeit brief, that could keep playing.

"I'm getting the surgery in like, two or three weeks," Featherston said. "Right now I'm doing physical therapy to get it strengthened ... to get the knee strong, to get the range of motion back. I've got at least six months of rehab in front of me."

And the question in front of Prep coach Leo Redgate is: who's going to take Featherston's place in the lineup?

The answer? Anyone and everyone.

"I think multiple guys (have to step up)," said Redgate. "We have two freshmen (Will Lucas, John Kelly), two sophomores (Patrick Harding, Bobby Haskins) and two juniors (Matt Gerics, Rich Kelly) that need to step up but we haven't identified any one player because we don't like to do that at Prep. We like to pride ourselves in playing as a team and as long as you can fit into the role that we're asking you to do, we're going to be just fine. I don't think we need some guy to go in and score a certain amount of points."

In a 70-62 win over Hamden, Tommy Nolan took the Featherston role, handing out eight assists and coming up with five steals (along with scoring 18 points, including six in the final minute to seal with win).

"(Playing the point) it's something that I have to do," said Nolan. "That's fine, I'll do anything to help the team but we're obviously missing a big part with Ray. We're missing him a lot. But it is what it is and we have to step it up and everyone's going to have to keep doing what they've been doing."

"It was Tommy tonight but it's really a collective effort," Featherston said. "We're not a team of individuals, we're a (ital) team (end) . We've got a lot of players that contribute. Will Lucas stepped up tonight in the fourth quarter, he had an alley-oop pass to Ryan Foley for a layup which really got everybody rolling and Joey D (Digennaro) hitting a couple of free throws down the stretch, Pat (Harding) with some big rebounds (Ryan) Foley, a lot of steals, it was full team effort."

Which, according to Redgate is how it's going to have to be.

"I believe that any one of my five men on the court who gets the ball is my point guard," Redgate said. "Not only can they bring it up, they are my point guard. They have to make good decisions with the basketball."

Heading into games tonight at West Haven and next week at home against Xavier (Jan. 20) and Hand (Jan. 23), Prep will look to continue the "team" play and stay on tract for a return to the Class LL tournament.

"The guys are motivated, they're thirsty and we're not going to be an easy game for anybody," Featherston said. "The heart they play with, the passion, it's going to be tough to beat no matter what."

celsberry@ctpost.com