Vadas, Connecticut College have been a great fit for each other

New London

If you are the parent of a local high school basketball player convinced your kid's scholarship would be inevitable were it not for that dopey coach, take a ride to Connecticut College tonight.

And watch the game.

And then ask a third party: Is your kid really as good as Matt Vadas?

This is Matt Vadas: A 6-foot-4 scorer at Conn averaging 19.8 points per game who, in coach Tom Satran's words, "is a great 3-point shooter (37 percent), posts and scores, drives and scores and makes every foul shot (79 percent)."

Think your kid can do all that?

Think your kid is really good enough to play in tonight's Conn-Coast Guard game at all?

Answer: probably not.

And that's Division III men's basketball. It's tragically underappreciated. There are not, relatively speaking, many high school players who possess Vadas' skills.

Vadas, a senior from Spring Valley Lakes, N.J., has a chance this season to be the program's career scoring leader. He's No. 2 at the moment, behind the great Kareem Tatum, the centerpiece to Conn's Final Four team in 2000.

He'd earn it, too, what with Conn's impending schedule full of Division III Gatsbys: No. 5 Williams, No. 6 Amherst and No. 19 Middlebury, among others.

Satran, a Conn graduate and former assistant under Glen Miller, cannot admit to knowing Vadas would be this good. He can't admit to even knowing about him at a certain point four years ago.

"We were recruiting another kid on his team and saw him on tape," Satran said Friday after practice. "I asked my assistant at the time, 'who's that kid?' My assistant said, 'I don't know.' I said, 'well, we better find out.' I knew he had ability, but I never would have thought this."

Vadas was a typical freshman, practicing self-absorption before self-sacrifice. Funny how time's passage and the finality of seniorhood helped provide utter clarity.

"As a freshman, he only thought about offense. His offense," Satran said. "He defends now, rebounds and turns down shots for a better shot."

Vadas: "Our offense has been really grooving recently. It's nice to get points with other people scoring, too. It makes the wins a lot better."

The Camels are 5-4, off a trip to play a pair of Division III games in North Carolina, where they even practiced at the Dean Dome one day. They're getting closer, the Camels are, in spite of trying to negotiate the New England Small College Athletic Conference without great facilities or tradition.

That's because Satran knows what he's doing. Like finding Matt Vadas.

"I wanted to go somewhere I felt like I could make an impact in the first couple of years," Vadas said. "The first time I came here, I didn't know much about it. I wanted to go to New England. The campus was beautiful. Conn is the perfect mix between basketball, academics and social life."

This is always a fun night. Conn and Coast Guard play like neighboring rivals. It's the Route 32/Mr. G's Bowl. The programs have had their moments, too. Luce Fieldhouse rocked in the days of Miller. Pete Barry led Coast Guard to the Elite Eight not long ago.

Now they are finding their way again, through tough conferences, academic standards and wavering levels of support. Satran likes what he sees.

"We're pretty close right now," he said. "It'll be hard to lose Matt. Plus, the league. We have three teams in the top 20 and Bowdoin hasn't lost, so I don't know how they're not ranked. But our guys have really, really improved."

Among the ways to accomplish that: Give Vadas the ball.

"We realize we only have a few more games left as seniors, so we might as well give it our all," Vadas said. "We've got to start taking every day as seriously as possible. Sometimes as a group we take a couple of days off mentally. Good teams never do that.

"I feel like this year we can really make a run in this conference," Vadas said. "This is my favorite and most enjoyable year of the four."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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