You may have heard about the four young men from the Bronx who were key to the Mt. Saint Joseph Academy high school basketball state title earlier this year. They were written up in the New York Times, in an article that wasn’t always so flattering to Rutland or to Vermont, as it portrayed the resentment of local parents who thought their kids should get the playing time over the transplants. Sportswriter Tom Haley caught up with three of them, who have gone on to the same college and are on the varsity team there. The experience in Vermont was not only a positive one overall, it made them stronger, they say:
HENNIKER, N.H. — Shannon Murray, Rob Cassell and Jaskin Melendez reached the apex of the Vermont high school basketball world in March, celebrating a state championship with their Mount St. Joseph Academy teammates on the floor of the Barre Auditorium.
That was a special time for these players who came from the Bronx to attend MSJ. They thought, at the time, it was the last time they would play the game together. It was a grand exit.
But the story goes on. Murray, Cassell and Melendez are teammates again. They wear the uniform of the New England College Pilgrims and if anything can equal that state championship game triumph over Vergennes, it just might be a victory over Castleton State College on Jan. 10, 2013 before a packed house in Castleton that figures to include friends and fans from MSJ.
“I can’t wait for the Castleton game,” Murray said.
The players know Castleton’s Mark Comstock, the reigning North Atlantic Conference Player of the Year, and his freshman teammate Robert Coloutti. They played against Coloutti when he was at Fair Haven and played with Rutland High graduate Comstock in the summer. They also played with Castleton freshman Chad Copeland of Twinfield at a college showcase.
“I’ve always wanted to play against Copeland,” Murray said.
They will be coming to Rutland County twice. They also visit Green Mountain College’s matchbox gym on Feb. 16.
“I’m excited. Those are going to be two of the best games of the season just because they are in Vermont,” Cassell said.
Vermont provided an unforgettable experience for the these players. It offered them a relaxing contrast from the city. It gave them a quiet, safe environment for learning, a quality education to prepare them for college, the excitement of a community getting behind a winning team and a study in human nature.
There was some resentment by people who felt the students were taking playing time away from local players. It even escalated into racism and derogatory postings on Facebook.
Murray calls the resentment “childish” but he also says he figured out what to do with it.
“It motivated me in basketball,” he said.
Beating Vergennes was an answer.
“We shut a lot of people up,” Cassell said.
Cassell said that the negative remarks hurt initially.
“At first it kind of bothered us,” he said. “Then we embraced it and used it as motivation.”