Coverage from:
The Daily Hampshire Gazette - 3/16
The Stamford Advocate - 3/17


UMass hoop recruit also looks elsewhere
By Matt Vautour, Daily Hampshire Gazette Staff Writer, 3/5/2005

Craig Austrie didn't sign a letter of intent in November to play basketball at the University of Massachusetts, choosing to wait to see what happened with coach Steve Lappas. After the school dismissed Lappas Monday, the 6-foot-1 point guard from Stamford, Conn., who plays for Trinity Catholic, has reopened the recruiting process and is still considering becoming a Minuteman.

His father, Vincent Austrie, said they are waiting for UMass to replace Lappas.

''We're waiting to see who the coach is. He definitely wants to play for the right person,'' Vincent Austrie said. ''He liked the school and he liked the players. But the kind of player he is Lappas understood and had special plans for him.''

Vincent Austrie added that his son wants to play point guard in college.

While they monitor UMass, Austrie has gotten considerable interest from other schools according to Trinity Catholic coach Mike Walsh.

''He's no longer verbally committed to UMass,'' Walsh said. ''They're going to need a guard next year and he thinks he can step in right away and play. But some other schools are interested that need guards too. He's gotten a lot of interest.

''If he gets a good offer, he can't wait to see who's going to coach the team,'' Walsh added. ''He liked the situation at UMass because it was an opportunity to play right away, but nobody knows how long it's going to go on. He has two interviews set up, one with a Big East school and an A-10 school.''

Walsh did not identify the colleges.

Trinity Catholic, where Austrie has averaged 24.2 points and 5.7 assists this season, is in the Connecticut Division I semifinals.

LAPPAS SPEAKS - Lappas spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since athletic director John McCutcheon announced Monday that he would not return.

Photo
Steve Lappas makes his final press conference in Amherst.
During a press conference at the Mullins Center, Lappas read a prepared statement expressing disappointment that he would not be back next season and thanked people he had worked with during his four years in Amherst.

''I can leave here feeling like we left this program in very good shape,'' Lappas said. ''I know we did.''

Lappas said he thought his team's 16-12 record this year was good enough for him to stay.

''We won. I told the athletic director last year if we lose next year, I'll walk out the door on my own. If winning is winning more than you lost, we won,'' Lappas said.

He said he expects the Minutemen to be good next year regardless of who is coaching the team.

''Next year this will be an outstanding basketball team. We turned the corner this year learning how to win,'' Lappas said. ''Next year when they're an NCAA Tournament team, nobody will be rooting for them more than Steve Lappas, his family and his staff.''

The Minutemen were 50-65 under Lappas the past four seasons.

Lappas said he is not sure what is in his immediate future.

''After 17 years in a row as head coach, I don't know. It's hard to say,'' said Lappas, who added that he is interested in working in television. ''I can't tell you that the last year hasn't been tough for me and my family. Maybe it's time to step back, maybe not.''

SEARCH COMMITTEE - McCutcheon named eight other people to an advisory committee he chairs to aid in selecting the next basketball coach.

The members are Chancellor John Lombardi; Bob Sheridan, chairman of the board of trustees athletics committee; associate athletic directors Tim Kenney, Thorr Bjorn and Elaine Sortino; assistant athletic director Jamie Seguin; UMass Court Club president Ron Nathan; and faculty members Glenn Wong and Ernest Allen.

IN MOORE'S CORNER - Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said his assistant Tom Moore would be a good choice to fill the vacancy at UMass.

''Tom Moore could take over UConn tomorrow,'' Calhoun told ESPN. ''He's a gifted recruiter, a bright guy and incredibly responsible. He does all the things you need to do to be a head coach. This is a good year to go into the Atlantic 10, and the UMass team just needs a point guard and they'll be very good next year.''

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com.


Trinity wins 3 OT thriller over Hillhouse
By Dave Ruden, The Stamford Advocate Staff Writer, 3/17/2005

FAIRFIELD -- As the Trinity Catholic High School basketball team attempted to run out the clock and preserve a two-point lead in the third overtime of last night's epic CIAC Division I semifinal battle with Hillhouse, the ball eventually ended up in the hands of Josh Smith, who looked to kill off the final five seconds with a soft pass to Craig Austrie near midcourt.

It proved a little too feathery and was deflected by the Academics' De'arie Allick, who had a clear path to the basket and a chance to prolong what was already one of the lengthiest postseason games in state history.

"The kid stole the ball and I had to do everything I could to get back," Austrie said. "I was concerned he was going to go all the way for an uncontested layup."

Instead, not sure how much time was remaining, Allick pulled up at the foul line. Austrie caught up to Allick, deflected the shot, and danced in delight as time expired.

Austrie's high school career was extended for one last game and the Crusaders earned their seventh straight trip to the final with a classic 75-73 win at Fairfield Warde High School.

The victory sends fourth-seeded Trinity (24-1) into Saturday's final against No. 2 Crosby (26-0) at 2 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University. The game will be a rematch of last year's final, won by the Crusaders, 69-67. Crosby advanced with a 78-65 semifinal win over Xavier yesterday.

"I was just lucky he stopped to shoot," said Austrie, who finished with 22 points on the night before his 18th birthday. "Once he did I knew I could get it. This is just as big as the state final last year."

Austrie, who is more accustomed to winning games with his offense, made a 3-point shot with :04 left in the second overtime to tie the game and keep the Crusaders' season alive after trailing by 14 points in the third period.

"I am so proud," Trinity coach Mike Walsh said. "This had to be one of the best games this program has been involved in. You had Crosby last year, and that's the one everyone is going to remember, but I will remember this one for a long time. Everyone stepped up."

The Crusaders are two-time defending champions and will be going for their fourth title in the last five years and sixth overall.

The fallout from last night's game was strewn all over the gymnasium late last night. As Austrie was overwhelmed by swarms of fans afterward, he admitted he had no idea how many overtimes had taken place.

As Walsh finally gathered his players in the locker room, he led them in the Hail Mary prayer. "We save it for big moments and big comebacks,' he said.

Meanwhile, 50 yards away, Hillhouse coach Kermit Carolina fought back tears discussing his team, which has won 15 state crowns but was denied its first trip to the final since 1990.

"They left it all on the floor tonight," the Academics' second-year coach said. "I couldn't be more proud of a group of guys. It came down to we made one more mental error than they did."

Asked what that was, Carolina wiped his eyes. "You pick one," he said.

While Carolina brought players in and out of the lineup, Walsh went the whole way with just six. His offense was carried by Austrie and Chris Skrelja (game-high 30 points), who combined for 29 of the team's final 35 points.

"I wanted to leave it all on the court," said Skrelja, who had a team-high 10 rebounds. "I didn't want to look back tomorrow with a loss saying I could have done more. Craig, what can you say, he's the best player in the state. I told him we were going to win together and lose together and he stepped up."

Ryan Blackmon added 14 points for Trinity, but 10 came in the opening period.

Hillhouse (22-4), the eighth seed, got 22 points from Chazz McCarter and 20 from Keith Cothran.

The final 20 minutes were wrenching. Hillhouse took advantage of Trinity's lackadaisical defense and poor shot selection to go on a 22-4 run and take a 41-27 lead with 4:09 left in the third quarter.

Walsh called a timeout but only got a few words out before he was interrupted by his co-captains.

"We had lost our poise a little bit because we were not getting back on defense," Walsh said. "I started to say something and then Skrelja and Austrie looked at the guys and said, 'We have been in worse situations.' "

The Crusaders were still down by 12 points after a dunk by Cothran to open the final period. They responded with an 8-0 run, climaxed by an Austrie 3-pointer, to make the score 52-48.

Two foul shots by Cothran made the score 57-51 with 3:26 left in regulation, but Trinity scored the final six points to force overtime. Blackmon made two free throws, Austrie hit a 15-footer and Skrelja made two foul shots with 39 seconds left.

The Crusaders went to the line 38 times and outscored Hillhouse, 27-11.

Hillhouse had a chance to win the game in regulation, but after a timeout with 10 seconds left Cothran waited too long and had his forced 28-foot jumper from up top blocked by Austrie.

Each team scored just once in the first overtime. Takeim Chennies' only basket gave Trinity a 59-57 lead. McCarter tied the score on a putback with 1:28 remaining. The Crusaders had the ball for a final shot but Marc Fields lost control and it rolled away as the buzzer sounded.

The Academics built a four-point lead in the second overtime and took a 67-64 lead with 11 seconds left when Kendall Walker made one of two free throws.

The ball was inbounded to Austrie and never left his hands until his 3-pointer over two defenders touched all net and necessitated a third overtime.

"I was double- and triple-teamed but knew I had to do something to help the team," Austrie said.

Trinity's eight points in the final overtime came from the foul line. Two shots by Skrelja gave the Crusaders a 73-69 lead, their biggest since 25-21 midway through the second quarter.

Cothran scored on a putback, and after Fields made one of two free throws Eddie Floyd (12 points) scored on a drive to make the score 74-73 with 31 seconds left. Austrie was fouled 11 seconds later and made one of two shots.

Walker was unable to control a pass from Cothran and was called for traveling with 12 seconds remaining. The Crusaders killed nearly all of them, then had Austrie in the right place at the right time.

"That's why all these colleges are here to see him," Walsh said. "That shot in the second overtimeŠ.How clutch was that? I can't describe it. The shot had to go down and he got it to go down. It was almost a little miracle. I tell you what, I will never doubt these kids."

Austrie gave a verbal commitment to attend the University of Massachusetts next year, but never signed a letter of intent. His status is uncertain with the firing of coach Steve Lappas earlier this week.

Representatives from Providence, Rhode Island and Fordham were among those in attendance last night.

But next year was the farthest thought from Austrie's mind.

"I'm exhausted; I have never gone this many overtimes," Austrie said. "This is the best birthday present ever: I get to go back to Central Connecticut."


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