50-year vet Vito Montelli is Coach of the Year

Vito Montelli has tutored fathers and sons as the only boys’ basketball coach in the 50-year history of St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, Conn.

"But no grandfathers, yet," Montelli joked.

Montelli, who led the Cadets to a 25-1 record and a repeat Class LL state title this season, is the ESPNHS National High School Coach of the Year.

The team’s success didn’t come without adversity. Two juniors expected to start were lost to the squad because of eligibility issues -- one before the season and the other in January.

"Our kids came together and, with some talent and depth, we reached our goal of repeating as state champion. In fact, from the start of preseason drills, our players would always end every practice with a ‘back-to-back’ chant," Montelli said.

Winning titles is very familiar to the 50-year Cadets' coach. He has guided 11 championship teams and finished runner-up six other times at the school.

With an 878-328 career record, he's the winningest coach in New England history. No other Connecticut coach has even reached 700 wins.

Montelli is just the second Connecticut coach to be named ESPNHS National Coach of the Year. Robert Saulsbury, the coach at Wilbur Cross in New Haven, was selected for 1974.

"It's really a humbling honor and I'm thrilled to be selected," the 79-year-old said, "because there're so many deserving coaches out there. This is special for our school, our players and our coaching staff."

Montelli and staff had only two starters, and a sixth man, back from last season's state title team. Both of the starters, though, were senior team leaders and turned in stellar seasons.

Timajh Parker, a 6-foot-7 leaper, was the top scorer at 19.8 points per game and ended with 1,354 career points. He will play next year at Towson.

The point guard, who scored 26 points in the state finals against Hillhouse (New Haven, Conn.), was 5-foot-8 James Jennings. He also averaged 17.5 points per game.

The other senior captain was 6-foot-7 Patrick Hopkins, who was blended with a pair of sophomore starters in 6-foot-3 Quincy McKnight and 6-foot-1 Jonathan Dzurenda.

The only loss came in the final game before the start of the state playoffs. Bridgeport Central, a team beaten earlier by the Cadets 92-56, upended St. Joseph 62-58.

"That was our wake-up call before the tournament," Montelli recalls. "We had no super stars, but our team chemistry was good and our players worked hard in summer and fall practice to make it happen. They deserve the credit."