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    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    St. Thomas More: a forever jewel in our corner of the world

    St. Thomas More head coach Jere Quinn talks with Shamiere Green (3) during Tuesday’s exhibition against NBA Academy-Africa in Montville. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    NBA Academy-Africa’s bench reacts to a basket during Tuesday’s exhibition game against St. Thomas More in Montville. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Montville — Any good story ever told about St. Thomas More (the school, not the Lord Chancellor of England) is tethered to the three timeless concepts of location, location, location.

    Its bucolic setting so perfectly symbolizes the school’s honorable, but pretenseless mission: academics and athletics woven into the simplicity of rustic life.

    But then T-More’s idyllic perch also belies how it has morphed into one of the nation’s home offices for prep school basketball, the seemingly accidental oasis attracting some of the nation’s top talent. Who knew they’d audition for major college coaches in the woods on the shores of a lake?

    We were reminded of this again Tuesday, when we were reminded all over again how fortunate that this wellspring has its roots in our corner of the world. It wasn’t merely prep school basketball played on Jere Quinn Court. This was the day that T-More went international, two games against NBA Global academies with players from 15 different countries.

    “A wonderful day,” Quinn was saying later, after his Chancellors defeated NBA Africa in a thoroughly entertaining game that befit the day’s theme: to raise money for the Tom Konchalski Foundation.

    The late Tom Konchalski, forever friend of the St. Thomas More program, is the founding father of scouting services that help place kids in the right college programs.

    “I'm walking around and people see Tom’s name all over the gym today, that brings back fabulous memories,” Quinn said. “And I actually have a great video of the last time he was here, of him just coming onto the court and waving goodbye to the camera. And I knew that was the last time he would ever be here.

    “Tom is the reason Eddie Cota (eventually starred at North Carolina) was here. Tom is the reason so many kids from the New York area have been here. He's the reason we've gotten so many of our student athletes. And he's never had a negative word to say about any of the kids. The simplest way I can say thank you for what he's done was to be able to run an event like today.”

    Quite the event. Imagine: You play for NBA Africa, one of 12 young men born between 2004 and 2006, hailing from Angola, Egypt, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Senegal, Mali, South Sudan and Chad. You grew up mindful of the shapes and forms of your homeland — Pyramids, wildlife, the Serengeti — and then one day you roll up on 45 Cottage Rd., Oakdale, CT.

    Ah, yes. Maybe we really do live for the moments we can’t put into words.

    Some in the crowd, though, found the words to encapsulate the day. Many sat in appreciation that a quick drive up Route 85 could produce such entertainment. Jere Quinn does for basketball around here what Mohegan Sun does for concerts. As in: Who knew THEY would ever come HERE?”

    “It certainly means I've been very fortunate,” Quinn said. “And it certainly means that the school has allowed me to build a very nice program. And the parents who have believed in us have allowed us to build a very nice program. And you sometimes almost become immune to it because it's just what you do.”

    Interesting word choice from Quinn: “immune.” We’re all guilty. Even us rabid sports fans sometimes forget what’s at T-More every winter. We don’t get there as often as we should to watch A-level basketball and tell the stories of the kids who come from all over the globe to study and learn in a gym with no cell service.

    “I knew it was a big day today,” Quinn cracked, “when I saw (former Avery Point baseball coach) Roger Bidwell and all those other New London guys in this gym. To get those guys, you know, with their ankle chains in New London to drive up here is impressive.”

    Konchalski would have loved Tuesday in Oakdale. Everything he ever loved and worked for. Kids finding a light for their way through basketball. Seems Quinn and Konchalski share more than their Archbishop Molloy heritage.

    “When you walk around here and you see all these newspaper articles and you see kids who have won NCAA championships and you see kids in the NBA,” Quinn said, “my whole goal in life was to develop a huge head. But my wife (Judy) will never allow that to happen. And she says ‘you're just doing your job.’ And trust me, she was a better guidance counselor than I've ever been a coach.”

    Quinn found time to thank a rival coach, Tom Espinosa of Putnam Science Academy (it played another NBA Global team after T-More’s game), saying, “Every time I'm trying to do a major fundraising event in this gym, Tom Espinosa is my first call and my only call.” And then he paused to reflect on another cold winter day in Oakdale.

    “I'm now coaching in my sixth different decade, from the 70s, 80s, 90s, to single digits and then 10s and 20s,” Quinn said. “It’s guys 45 years ago that created this. In the next 25 years, we'll just keep making it better.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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