Boys hoop preview: Wilton ready for more success

The Wilton High boys basketball program’s turnaround in recent years has been remarkable, going from the depths of the FCIAC to the highest levels.

Not surprisingly, expectations are high for the 2014-15 season.

And they should be.

The Warriors return six of their top-eight players from a year ago, and have a roster in which seniors make up eight of the 10 spots.

The Warriors not only have experience, but a lot of experience in winning. Wilton has won 40 games the last three years, played in 10 post-season games, and made the FCIAC playoffs two years in a row for the first time in program history.

“They know they can play with anybody in the league. They just have to believe in themselves, that they can win,” said Joel Geriak, in his third year as head coach. “They really work hard. They really want to succeed in everything they’re doing.”

The Warriors open the season tomorrow (Wednesday, 5:30) at Ridgefield — the only FCIAC team they haven’t beaten over the last three seasons.

Last year, the Warriors finished at 13-10, falling in the FCIAC quarterfinals and then in the second round of the Class LL state playoffs, in overtime, to Greenwich.

The team won the FCIAC East Division title for just the second time in program history, and the first time since 1989; and qualified for states for the third straight year — something Wilton had not done since making states four years in a row in 1985-89.

Two starters are gone from that team — second team All-FCIAC guard Eric Houska, who led Wilton in scoring (18.2 points per game) and three-pointers (64), and center Peter Ciaccio (6.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game) — but the Warriors have plenty of experience and talent to offset those losses.

The center of attention will be 6’0” senior guard Matt Shifrin, in his fourth year on the varsity team, and one of the team’s four captains. Last season, he averaged 15.2 points per game and hit 42 three-pointers, at a rate of 37%, and also averaged three rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He hit over 80% from the free throw line.

Wilton’s balance, and abundance of three-point shooters, will make it hard for other teams to focus on Shifrin, said the coach.

“He’s definitely our go-to guy, but any one of our starters can score 15 or 20 points,” said Geriak. “The league knows him, but he’s gotten that much better. He sees the floor very well.”

At 617 career points and 98 career three-pointers, Shifrin is on pace to end his career as Wilton’s all-time leader in both categories.

Another big shooter from three-point land who’s back is senior Scott Shouvlin, a 5’10” senior guard and also a captain. Shouvlin last season averaged seven points per game, along with 2.3 rebounds per game, and was second on the team in three-pointers (44), shooting 42% from downtown.

“He hits the big shots. He’s not scared of taking any shot,” said Geriak.

Rounding out the backcourt is 5’11’ senior point guard Richie Williams, another captain, who averaged five points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.

“He’s gotten much better. He’s shooting the three well and he can get to the rim whenever he wants,” said Geriak.

Last season. Williams hit 14 three-pointers, shooting 33% from beyond the arc.

The front line will feature two seniors who started last season in 6’4” forward Mike Bingaman and 6’4” forward Lucas Savoie.

Bingaman, a captain, started every game last season and averaged four points and five rebounds, while Savoie was injured mid-season after starting early on. He averaged four points and 3.3 rebounds over 13 games.

“He’s the mot athletic kid we have. He’s the only kid we have who can play at or above the rim,” Geriak said of Savoie. “We’ll lean on him a lot for rebounding.”

Both big men can hit the three, he said.

The team’s sixth man is returning sophomore Jack Williams, a 6’1” forward who saw action in 17 games last season and is ready to show his talent more this year. Williams can score from inside and outside, and is a physical player and strong rebounder, said Geriak.

T.J. Savvaides, a 5’10” senior forward/center, is back after seeing action in 18 games last season. A strong defender, he also can shoot the three-pointer.

The other two seniors are also returning varsity players — 6’4” forward Miles Elmasry and 5’11” guard Ryan Curtis, who is injured but hopefully back by mid-season. Rounding out the roster is 5’8” sophomore point guard Matt Kronenberg. Not surprisingly, all three also can shoot the three-pointer.

‘It’s what we do,” said Geriak, adding that the Warriors will also run more this season.

“We will push tempo a little more this year. We have a lot of experience and we can try new things,” he said.

The Warriors knocked down 178 treys last season, hitting 39%, and nearly half of the team’s shots from the floor were from beyond the arc. Wilton scored almost as many points on threes (534) as it did on two-point field goals (572).

Geriak said the team’s goals are the same as always — win the holiday tournament, and qualify for the FCIAC and state playoffs. Wilton has never made the FCIAC tournament three years in a row, and has only made states four straight years once before.

“If we shoot decent and play defense, we should be in good shape,” he said. “The guys who have been here have had winning seasons every year now. They don’t go into games hoping to win. They expect to win. In close games, they’re not looking for the other shoe to drop. They’re looking for ways to win the game.”