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East Catholic High School dominates Connecticut basketball

By Jamarius Russell

High school basketball in Connecticut is something not to be overlooked. Each season, teams are all chasing one goal: to win a state championship. However, the team that raises the plaque at the end of the year must go through one of, if not the best team in all of Connecticut high school boys basketball.

The East Catholic Eagles.

East Catholic High School (Manchester, Conn.) has been a staple in boys’ basketball for quite some time. Prior to the start of this season, the Eagles had amassed a record of 155-16 – along with three state championships – since 2015-16.

At the forefront of this program is head coach Luke Reilly, who has led the program since 2000 and coached some of the best players the state has had to offer. Matt Knowling (Yale), Joe Reilly (Sacred Heart), Jaylin Hunter (Ohio), and Mike McGuirl (Kansas State) are just a handful of the elite players to come through East Catholic. Now Reilly gets to coach his own sons, Luke and Samson. Reilly finds no difference in coaching his own children as opposed to other players.

“I would say there is no difference, from where I sit,” Reilly said. “(My players are) all my sons.”

He stays in contact with his former players, and it seems that every year, no matter who is on the roster, Reilly gets his athletes to buy in.

“The culture we have here at East is… unique… and elite, and is really hard to find,” Reilly said. “We have complete buy-in from every guy.”

When you get a group of players that are ready to compete for an already-established program, it makes the coach’s job that much easier. Reilly says it does exactly the opposite.

“It actually makes it harder,” he said. Now you’re required to give every ounce of yourself to the team because that’s what they’re doing. So it actually makes it harder, but certainly makes it more fun.”

Another thing that helps East Catholic is how it controls each game. The Eagles play at a smooth, calm pace that allows them to be able to get any shot they want without forcing anything.

The biggest component, however, is chemistry. It’s almost as if each roster that Reilly puts together has played with one another since they have been able to walk. Players know each other’s strengths and where everyone is going on the court.

It truly is great complementary basketball.

Not only has East Catholic played well in Connecticut, but the Eagles have also found success playing at the Spalding Hoophall Classic. With an all-time record of 2-1 at the showcase, they are no stranger to playing against some of the country’s best teams.

Last year, they lost to Mater Dei High School (CA) 73-58. However, it was the first time the majority of Coach Reilly’s players had the opportunity to play in this out-of-state environment. Reilly understands that Hoophall is a great experience for his team.

“I think it’s a great event. It’s awesome being here,” Reilly said. “People forget about the COVID situation… so I’m happy for the guys that have missed out on a few great opportunities. But these guys have continued to put themselves in situations to play in tournaments like this.”

This year, the Eagles faced off against St. Augustine High School (CA) during Saturday’s session. The Eagles suffered their first loss of the season, 67-57, to the reigning California Open Division champions.

After competing in the Hoophall Classic once again, there is only one thing on the minds of the East Catholic High school boys’ basketball team:

Repeating as Connecticut high school state champions.

Photo: Braedan Shea/Springfield Student

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