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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Tyson Wheeler: A high school career anyone would be proud of

    In this Jan. 24 file photo, St. Bernard’s Tyson Wheeler (12) charges past Windham’s Travis Mangual Jr. (23) during a game in Montville. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Montville - Shakespeare, a sports fan? DraftKings might lay 10-1 against.

    Because, well, do you really have to ask, “what’s in a name?” In sports, try everything. After all, who’d respect the New York Giants if they were the “Daffodils” instead? Names also give us frames of reference to players and their histories, fueling endless comparisons and the best arguments in gin mills and coffee shops.

    What’s in a name?

    Ask Tyson Wheeler.

    Either of them.

    Dad is among the greatest of them all in New London lore and legend, the approachable assassin who honed his game every day at Toby May, later leading the Whalers to the 1994 state championship, a fusion of resourceful ballhandling and shooting range to the parking lot.

    Sonny is the face of St. Bernard now, a fellow 1,000-point scorer, who will lead the Saints into Mohegan Sun Arena for the state championship game Sunday night. The same as dad: sunny disposition, liked by friend and foe.

    And while it is customary in sports to compare, especially when father and son have the same name, Tyson and Tyson are nothing more than father and son; son and father. Turns out that even with all there is to compare - careers, accolades, shooting ranges and championships - they’ll just leave anything serious to everybody else.

    “Well,” Tyson The Younger was saying the other day, “me and my dad are always bickering about whose teams were better and who was better at what age. I think it's funny. Just common arguments between the two of us.”

    Tyson The Younger’s actual first name isn’t even Tyson. It was supposed to be, except that he was born in Italy when his dad was playing there professionally.

    “My first name is Sean,” Wheeler said. “At the time, you couldn’t be named after your father there. So my name is Sean Tyson Wheeler.”

    It is here that you perhaps pause. Here’s his out: Keep the name Sean and maybe quell some of the comparisons. But then, the Wheelers’ penchant to be humble doesn’t mean they’re not up for a challenge.

    “I've always been Tyson. I like Tyson better,” Tyson The Younger was saying. “I like the name because it gets me away with things sometimes. ‘Oh, you’re Tyson’s son? Cool!’”

    Speaking of cool: Tyson The Older scored his 1,000th point his senior year by gathering the opening tap, taking two dribbles over the midcourt line and raining home a three-pointer from beyond 30 feet, blowing the roof off Conway Gym. Tyson The Younger, riding a serendipitous wave, scored his 1,000th earlier this week at Powers Gym on a similarly deep three.

    Now that’s a comparison that will age better than good Cabernet.

    “Coming into my freshman year, I came in trying to prove something. I had expectations of ‘Tyson has to be great immediately,’” Wheeler said. “My parents always told me that I’m my own player. My dad says his career is over and that I’m my own person. I’ve never felt any pressure.

    “He graduated in 94 and there’s been maybe two or three players around here in all that time as good as he was. Just because I'm his son doesn't mean I have to put up the same numbers he did. I just want to be myself and make my own story. And I feel like I've been doing that these past couple years.

    “I get it. I can go out and drop 15 points, have a couple of assists and get a bunch of steals. But since I didn’t get 30, people think I had a bad game. My dad would have gotten 30. There’s nothing you can do about that. Being named after him is a blessing. I get to have the same opportunities he had to play in front of a bunch of people and my team is really good.”

    The Saints go from good to immortal with a win Sunday night. It would end a senior season that Wheeler would never have imagined. Forget the people in the stands and their comparisons. Tyson The Younger has endured an injury to his rib and the death of a loved one this season. The unwritten script can be cruel sometimes.

    “Literally, the first day of our season, after the game I found out my grandmother was in a coma,” Wheeler said. “That was hard to hear. She was in a coma for I think it's 12 days before she passed away.”

    The late Cassie Grillo wasn’t just Wheeler’s grandmother.

    “She was probably one of my closest friends. I was with her all the time when I was younger,” he said. “We’d go fishing. She loved horses, so when I was younger, I had a miniature horse. A great vibe. I just loved being around her. She was so excited because she just moved back from Maine. She was going to watch me play on a regular basis for the first time. It was just tough on the family.”

    It wasn’t long after that Wheeler spent the night at Backus Hospital, unaware if he would have much of a senior year remaining.

    “In the New London game (Jan. 3) I took a bad shot. Probably a little bit of karma there,” Wheeler said. “Boo Boo (Da’Shawn Phillips) had a fastbreak and went up for a layup. I think Amyre (Gray) went up to block him. I was jumping to get the rebound and SaVahn (Warren) came up and tried to do a putback dunk. He accidentally kneed me in my ribs and knocked the air out of me. But I didn't think anything of it.

    “That same night, I couldn't fall asleep and I just couldn't breathe. My parents rushed me to the hospital. They told me I had fractured my eighth rib. My lung collapsed partially. They told me I was out for six to eight weeks. I was bummed out because I wanted to get my 1,000th (point) and I wanted to play my last year of high school. I was laying in the hospital bed not knowing what to think.”

    Later, doctors told him the injury could heal faster, in two to three weeks. Wheeler missed a few games, but returned soon enough.

    And so now Tyson The Older, an assistant coach at Brown, will be in the stands Sunday night in Neon Uncasville watching Sonny try to deliver St. Bernard’s first state title since 1982. After that, it’s on to prep school for Tyson The Younger and a career, he said, “in Division II or III.”

    What’s in a name? Depends on whom you ask. This much we know: “Tyson” is pretty much royalty around here. Father and son.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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