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Da'Shaun and Savahn: the two New London freshmen who stayed

New London — It's getting to where you might consider walking into Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, finding the nearest kid and asking, "so have you ever considered attending New London High?"

OK. Too snarky. Overstated. But other basketball rosters across the region in recent seasons have been dotted with New London kids, evidence that some households view the green-and-gold tinted concepts of history, tradition and eight state championships as nothing more than warning track power.

Ah, but now along comes Da'Shaun Phillips and Savahn Warren, two freshmen who haven't merely stayed in their hometown, but have emerged as two of New London's most promising players in almost a decade.

It begins here: They stayed. Their decision is symbolic — new kids reflecting the newness of a perfectly palatial new school — and perhaps offers some foreshadowing that the borders are closing and the Whalers are comin'.

"It's my hometown," said Phillips, a point guard, the kid his friends call "Boo Boo." "My grandpa passed away and he really wanted me to play for coach Parker. It's going great."

Warren: "I stayed because this is my hometown. My family is from here. My brother wanted me to play here. I have a lot of support here. A lot of people I love are here."

Their matter-of-factness shouldn't belie the significance of their decision. Athletics, in spite of varying opinions about their virtue, will be a major factor in whether New London schools make this magnet concept work. Don't underestimate the power of sports to alter perceptions. But if the perception is that even New London kids are going elsewhere, the entire undertaking becomes futile.

Put it this way: Right or wrong, if you want to look more attractive to the masses, you start winning. Successful teams draw more attention — and thus more people get a glimpse of what's inside the rest of the school. In this case, a shiny new monolith with several specialized pathways that will look more appealing with athletic teams on the front page for all the right reasons.

"Hopefully, (Phillips and Warren) can play an integral part in rebuilding our tradition here to the levels and standards we're used to," New London coach Craig Parker said. "They're certainly two young men we can build on."

Lest someone reading this take offense to the suggestion that leaving New London is treasonous, note the words of Dennis Farina in Midnight Run: Relax and have a cream soda, Sidney. It's nobody else's business where families choose to educate their kids. But it just seems bizarre that one would leave the most tradition laden program of them all.

"It doesn't bother me," Parker said. "I take this approach: We just want kids who want to be here. If they don't want to be here for whatever reason, we live with it. I don't give it a second thought."

Phillips: "It bothers me. But you have to earn a spot here. Nothing is going to be given to you."

Warren: "It bothers me. If we all stayed, we'd have even more potential."

For now, Phillips and Warren are the future. How ironic, though, that the future actually hearkens the old days, when fewer kids succumbed to spectacles of emotion. They play almost stoically, preferring to play the next play instead of celebrating the previous one.

"I'm a happy person, but I'm nonchalant on the court," Phillips said. "I don't talk that much. All the things that have happened in my life have changed the way I act."

Warren said, "I'm not going to get hyped until I win the game. I'm not happy until I win the game."

They're going old school in this new school.

"As freshmen, they're bringing some stability to our program already," Parker said. "Boo Boo has the ball in his hands as a freshman, just like we did with Kris Dunn. He's doing a nice job and has Kareem (assistant coach Kareem Brown) who was a Division I point guard (Coppin St.) here to help him. Savahn is this physical specimen. Nice soft touch. He can tip the ball in, which is a lost art. He gives us physicality around the basket."

Phillips and Warren add to the newness of the place. Indeed, if you haven't seen the new building, you should. It has every educational opportunity imaginable and a revamped Conway Gym.

"I don't miss walking down those stairs in the old place," Parker said. "But I miss that locker room. Lot of great memories, a lot of great kids came through there for all sports.

"But we have virtually a brand new gym. Nice and bright. The locker rooms are new. The weight room is new and for a high school is really great. There's a lot of reasons to be here."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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