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Courtney Gomez is right where she belongs: NFA

Norwich — The aphorism, loosely translated, goes something like this: In sports, you never want to be the guy who follows The Guy. You don't even have to be a guy. It's like coaching Tennessee immediately after Pat Summitt.

And yet here is Courtney Gomez, with an energy level that could make Eversource take notes, happily following The Guy at Norwich Free Academy. The Guy: Bill Scarlata, who only won seven state championships coaching girls' basketball, an undeniable face on any mythical Rushmore coaching thing in state history.

"The person that follows Geno (Auriemma) is crazy, right?" Gomez was saying earlier this week. "I feel the same way. I'm the person that follows, literally, the guy that changed high school basketball."

But this is what happens when you've been raised through the concepts of "we" and "us" over "me" and "I." Courtney Gomez loves NFA. NFA loves her. And the tug of home runs through her veins like a current, all the way to current events, as she has the Wildcats back in the top 10 in Season One.

"NFA means a lot to me," Gomez said after her team beat No. 3 New London on Tuesday night. "It gave me so much, not only as an athlete, but academically. It's an opportunity to give back what NFA gave to me. It was a big selling point. The fact that I knew a lot of the girls was helpful. I wanted to help the process of bringing that love back to NFA girls' basketball. We haven't felt that the last couple years, through no fault of anyone. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. So far, the girls have really bought in, back to the feel of when I was playing."

They've bought in because what choice do they have? Gomez is infectious. And she could be Dr. Gomez if she wanted to. She has a doctorate in her life's work — physical therapy — and another in Coaching 101. She has learned basketball from Scarlata, AAU coach Tim Kohs (three state titles at Mercy), Jennifer Rizzotti (reputation speaks for itself) and her dad, Marty, a coaching and teaching institution at Lyman Memorial.

Imagine: Every time she teaches basketball, there's no measuring the wisdom or its origins. It could be Scarlata. Kohs. Rizzotti. Dad. Or a glorious combination thereof.

"Those four people are some of the best people in my life," Gomez said. "You take a little from each person. The fire and energy I have comes from Jen and Timmy. The calm, collected part — not that you saw much of that tonight — comes from my dad and mom. Even tonight, my dad texted me before the game, 'there are going to be a lot of emotions, make sure you channel them in the right way.' Which was a really good piece of advice. And from 'Scar' I learned preparation and never taking anyone lightly."

I asked Gomez if she did "the Scarlata thing."

"You mean, 'we suck?'" she said laughing, alluding to how Scarlata identified many of his teams, even the undefeated ones, as a means to keep them humble.

I actually meant this: Does she drive all over Connecticut scouting NFA's opponents multiple times? Scarlata did that tirelessly.

"Scar taught me that you can't only see a team once," Gomez said. "You gotta go where you gotta go. I don't want to just do a good job here. I want to do a great job."

Scarlata was in the stands Tuesday for the New London game. He gave the Wildcats a standing ovation as the final seconds ticked away, wearing a giant grin. Like the proud father. And he was seated next to Marty, the proud father.

Later, as Gomez was talking to reporters, Scarlata approached her and said, "where are we going?"

Bill was interested in a postgame lemonade.

Gomez suggested the 99, a familiar postgame haunt for NFA coaches. Scarlata replied, "I'll go anywhere you're going. I want you to teach me how to coach."

Gomez loved that one.

Turns out Thomas Wolfe swung and missed when he suggested you can't go home again. Courtney Gomez — or make that Courtney Gomez Scarlata Kohs Rizzotti — is back where it began. She left for a while, learned a lot and came back to where she can make the difference she wants to make.

Just like you draw it up.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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