Hand boys basketball wins first state title, smothers Kolbe Cathedral for Division III crown

UNCASVILLE — There was belief in Madison from the start of this season that a boys basketball state championship was possible with the players returning.

The Tigers were an SCC championship contender as well. But that opportunity fell short in the semifinal round.

That only fueled the fire this group had to make it to the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Tigers disposed of three consecutive ECC opponents to get to Saturday’s Division III championship game, then blitzed the top seed, Kolbe Cathedral, 56-39 to win the program’s first state championship before 4,318 fans.

“We love each other on and off the covert, it’s a great group of guys,” Hand senior Tyler Favre said. “Winning at Mohegan Sun, there is no bigger stage you’re almost at a loss for words. It’s as good as it gets, especially as a senior, it just means that much more to work four years to get to this point, We couldn’t have finished on a higher note.”

The basketball team joins the success the school has had in other sports. It is the 17th different sport at Hand to win a CIAC state championship and the 74th state title overall.

“It’s going to be up there until the building comes down,” Hudson Geremia said about the state championship banner.

It was the first appearance in a state final for Hand since 1974. Bill Barker coached the 1970 and 1974 teams to the championship final.

In head coach Jimmy Economopoulos’ first season, the Tigers went 1-19. In 2020, Hand was 7-13. So it has been quite the ascension for the program.

“This was goal No. 1 one when I got here,” Economopoulos said. “There is no reason our basketball team couldn’t do the same thing at some point.”

Said Kolbe Cathedral coach John Pfohl: “I think Jimmy has a bright future with the program he has built. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with down the road. He is setting the stage for down the road.”

It was an exquisite performance on the defensive end for Hand (23-4), holding Kolbe Cathedral (22-4) to just 22.4 percent shooting (11-49).

“The defense was great. That’s what got us here,” said Hudson Geremia, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the Tigers. “Match is what we call our defense and Coach does a great job of enforcing the rules of the match.”

The Tigers challenged nearly every entry pass and denied almost every shot Kolbe Cathedral took in the first half. The Tigers, incredibly, held the Cougars to 2 of 23 from the floor in the first half, using a matchup zone that harassed the Cougars.

“That was the best overall half in general, offense, defense, you name it, best half,” Economopoulos said. “The kids executed the game plan to a T. … It was the matchup zone we’ve been playing all postseason. It’s tough for teams to prepare for because very few teams play it.”

The Cougars obviously contributed to that, missing some putback opportunities. Ty Santos and Njami George were the only ones to score from the floor over the first 16 minutes.

“Their defense played very well, no question about it. They switched well and communicated well,” Pfohl said. “There were probably 6-7 shots that everybody thought were going in, that rolled out somehow. Those go in and we set up our pressure as you could see in the second half, it’s probably a different game. But you have to give them all the credit in the world and I do. They were as good as advertised today.”

The Tigers finished the first half off in style: Kyle Hoffman lofted the inbounds pass from in front of Kolbe’s bench to Favre, who went back up with the layin just before the halftime buzzer sounded to make it 34-10. It finished off a half of 65.2 percent shooting from the floor.

Kolbe tried to get back into it despite being down by as many as 25 points (40-15) in the third quarter. The Cougars cut it to 16 by the end of the period.

“We had the ball twice at 14 (down), a turnover to cut to 12 and a missed layup. We were looking to get it under double figures and to be honest with you, I thought we would win the game (if that happened),” Pfohl said. “We were there a couple times knocking on the door and it didn’t happen.”

Danny Hilmer (12 points) knocked down a 3-pointer to start the final period for Hand and Kolbe never got any closer.

George finished with 19 points and six rebounds and Santos added 10 points, five rebounds and four assists in his final game for the Cougars.

“The seniors have carried on the tradition well. They played to the final second of that game and showed exactly what the younger kids need to do to continue play for the Kolbe Cathedral basketball program,” Pfohl said.

Fathers and sons with titles

Economopoulos has played in a state championship game (Lyman Hall, 2008) and won three Great Northeast Athletic Conference titles at Albertus Magnus (2-10, 2012, 2013).

But now he joins his dad, Nick Economopoulos, in the state championships category. Nick, who was seated at the end of the bench Saturday, wion a pair of girls basketball titles at Lyman Hall (1985, 1986) and at East Catholic (2002 and 2004).

Player of the Game

Hudson Geremia, Hand: Junior finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the Tigers.


“The kids really bought into each other and listened to what I had to say and executed.” — Hand coach Jimmy Economopoulos

joseph.morelli@hearstmediact.com; @nhrJoeMorelli


HAND19 15 7 15

KOLBE CATH.5 5 15 14

DANIEL HAND: Chase Geremia 4 0 1-1 9, John Adams 3 1 0-0 7, Kyle Hoffman 1 1 0-0 3, Daniel Hilmer 5 2 0-0 12 , Tyler Favre 3 1 1-2 8, Morgan Veth 1 0 0-0 2, Hudson Geremia 6 0 3-3 15.

KOLBE CATHEDRAL: Ty Staples-Santos 2 1 5-6 10, Najimi George 7 1 4-6 19, Jerome Shuler 0 0 1-2 1, Eudell Mason 1 0 4-6 6, Zach Giddens 0 0 1-2 1, Rodney Desir 1 0 0-0 2.