Boys hoop preview: Guards will guide Ridgefield

Senior guard James St. Pierre averaged more than 15 points and five rebounds per game last season. — Scott Mullin photo
Senior guard James St. Pierre averaged more than 15 points and five rebounds per game last season. — Scott Mullin photo

Andrew McClellan has always encouraged his team to play at a fast pace.

This season, that might be warp speed.

With a slew of guards who can dribble and knock down three-pointers, the Ridgefield High boys basketball team will look to compensate for its lack of height by pushing the tempo.

“Our skill set lends itself to success by doing that,” said McClellan, the Tigers’ head coach. “We’re below average size-wise this season, so we need to coach and play to our strengths, which include ball-handling, outside shooting and scoring in transition.”

One season after winning a first-ever FCIAC title, Ridgefield made more program history last winter by posting the best regular-season record in the conference. But the postseason was a bummer. Seeded first, the Tigers were upset by eighth-seed Norwalk in the FCIAC quarterfinals and then lost to Hamden in the Class LL state tournament.

Three starters are gone from last season’s 16-6 team, including 6’5” swingman Brenden McNamara, an All-FCIAC first-team selection who averaged 19.2 points and 10 rebounds per game. Shooting guard Alex Price (10 ppg.) also graduated, while center Jackson Mitchell opted not to return this winter in order to focus on off-season football conditioning.

Ridgefield’s top returnee is combo guard James St. Pierre, a 5’9” senior who averaged nearly 16 points and five rebounds per game and made the All-FCIAC second team.

“He had an incredible season and was the most improved player in the FCIAC,” said McClellan about St. Pierre. “He can score, and he rebounds really well for a player his size.”

Also back are 6’2” junior shooting guard Chris Knachel and 6’1” point guard/shooting guard Luke McGarrity. Knachel emerged as a contributor last season while McGarrity missed significant time due to a wrist injury after excelling as a freshman.

“Along with James (St. Pierre), those two are core guys for us,” said McClellan, whose team opens the season tonight (Dec. 17) at home against Byram Hills (N.Y.) at 7 p.m. “Chris Knachel is a good shooter who rebounds and passes well and plays great defense. “Luke McGarrity is a playmaker and scorer who has really improved during the off-season. We’re looking for Luke and Chris to pick up some of the scoring slack without Brenden McNamara and Alex Price in the lineup.”

Ridgefield’s remaining two starters will come from a group that includes 6’0” senior small forward Cameron Andry, 5’11” senior point guard Matt Misurelli, 6’3” junior forward/center Derek Szpakowski, and 6’3” senior center Ryan Garson.

“They all add different things,” said McClellan. “Andry is a stretch forward who can shoot from outside and play tough defense; Misurelli is a good ball-handler and passer; Szpakowski is our best inside presence; and Garson provides post defense and offensive rebounding.”

McClellan is also looking for three juniors — 6’2” guard James Rush, 6’4” forward Matthew DeLuca and 5’9” guard Johnny Briody — to contribute. More depth comes from senior forward Weston Carpenter, senior guard Yohann Brito and junior guard Drew Gordillo.

“What I like is that we have so many guys who can bring the ball up the floor; that should make us quicker after getting rebounds” said McClellan. “We are definitely going to be a guard-oriented team. We will have three guards on the court, for sure, and we might play with four.

“There might be some adjustments at the start of the year … people have to grow into their roles,” McClellan added. “But I hope by the end of the season we are one of the top three or four teams in the conference. I do think we have the talent to compete with anybody in the league.”