Jeff Jacobs: Emotional Watts, 27-0 Notre Dame-Fairfield leave no doubt they are best in state.
The coach, oh, the coach knew he was going to cry.
Either way, win or lose, Chris Watts knew he would be a mess.
“I’m an emotional guy,” the Notre Dame-Fairfield coach said Sunday night after his school had won its first state basketball championship at Mohegan Sun. “I told my team when I first met them, ‘I’m going to cry a lot and I’m going to hug a lot.’ I love what I do and I love the guys.”
Either way, win or lose, the 6-foot-4 senior and one of the Lancers who had his basketball heart lanced three times in this arena, knew he would be OK.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Noreaga Davis said after he scored 14 points and pulled in 12 rebounds in Notre Dame’s 65-60 victory over Sacred Heart. “After everything I have been through on and off the court, it made me who I am today. Everything happens for a reason. That’s what I am living by, no matter what I go through or my teammates go through.”
Davis paused for a moment.
“God works in mysterious ways. That’s all I can say.”
When you’d known tragedy far beyond disappointment on a basketball court, when you’d had your heart lanced like no young man deserves, great perspective can be found in the spirituality of the unknown.
“Nore is a special guy,” Watts said.
Either way, win or lose, Tyler Bourne, Notre Dame’s 5-9 senior guard … No, stop right there. There was not going to be an either way with Bourne.
He was going to take this Notre Dame team to a place where it had never been before.
Danbury had a 21-point fourth quarter lead on Notre Dame in the quarterfinals. Fans were leaving. Bourne brought the fans back. He brought his team all the way back. Bourne scored 26 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to keep the undefeated season alive.
At the CIAC luncheon on Friday, Watts, who had helped lead St. Joseph to state championships as both a player and assistant coach and who played at Providence College, did not choose careful words in describing that comeback.
“That was the most incredible thing I have seen in any kind of sports event,” Watts said. “And Tyler Bourne put on a show, one of most incredible shows a kid has put on in the state of Connecticut for one quarter.”
“I found out no matter what adversity hits me, I’m always going to be strong,” Bourne said.
Raheem Solomon was brilliant for the Hearts on this night. With Isiah Gaiter in foul trouble throughout, Solomon scored 33 points, pulled in 12 rebounds and single-handedly tried to push Sacred Heart to its fifth consecutive state title. He scored 19 points in a row at one point.
“I just told Rah, no matter what he’s still going to be my friend,” Bourne said.
Bourne answered back every time his team was threatened. The game was tied seven times, the lead changed eight times. There was Bourne. There was Notre Dame, yes, re-Bourne. And when he was finished he had 30 points and seven assists. When he was finished, Sacred Heart’s 107-game CIAC winning streak was gone.
“The kid did not want to lose,” Watts said. “I know you hear it. It’s cliché. He not only doesn’t want to lose, he has the ability to control it. Tyler is an extension of me on the floor. Emotionally, he is still growing as a young man. He’ll get it. But he’s a warrior out there.”
These teams played for the Class M title in 2016. Sacred Heart, with Mustapha Heron and one of the best teams in state history, blew out Notre Dame 101-49. The teams played again for the Class L title last year. Again, the Hearts prevailed.
“We respect them,” Davis said. “They are a great team. But today, our heart was big. Today was our day.”
After much angst and rearrangement, the CIAC finally got the best teams in a super division this season. The Division I tournament was terrific, overtimes, one-point games, buzzer beaters, all-time comebacks by Sacred Heart and Notre Dame in recent days.
And when it was over, there was no debate.
After losing in the state finals three times in a row and five times in its history, Notre Dame is the undefeated heavyweight champion of 2018.
“It’s historical,” Watts said. “It’s just great, because we didn’t get a lot credit all year. They talked about our [SWC] league and now we have three state champions out of our league.
“They said we didn’t play too many strong opponents. I think in the state tournament we played some pretty good teams leading up to right now and we were able to handle our business today. I’m really happy. We’re no doubt the No. 1 team in the state of Connecticut.”
“We showed how good we really are,” said Bourne, who, too, had grown emotional. “I did not expect it to be like this, but that’s how it happened. I’m just so happy we won.”
Bourne transferred to Notre Dame after his sophomore year. He had suffered through only one of the finals defeats.
“I haven’t been here for four years,” Bourne said. “I told Nore this game is going to be for him. Win or lose, go out there and play your hardest and you’re going to be happy with yourself.”
In December, his cousin Khali Davis was shot at the Maple Street Mini Market on Kossuth Street in Bridgeport. He was 22. Jarod Hamilton, 19, was charged with the murder. With his parents in prison, Davis was raised by his aunt, Ann Hall. He has been a beacon.
“Dec. 23, 2017, my cousin was killed,” Davis said. “After that happened, this whole season was dedicated to him. It was all for him. He wouldn’t want to see me fail to do this.
“I told myself today, ‘I’ve been here four times, I’ve lost three. I’m not going out that way.’ I just couldn’t. I need this. It was very important to me.”
This, too, you also should know about Noreaga Davis.
“He has been through a ton,” Watts said. “He carries a 3.9 grade-point average. He is a genius. He has been through so much, losing a cousin to a gunshot. He has not grown up in a great situation. He has been through a lot. I’m just so happy for the kid. Here he is, on top of the world. He’s going to be off to college [he’s still undecided where] and he’s going to be a great contributor to our society.
“He wants to be a neurosurgeon. He will be a neurosurgeon.”
And with that, with tears running down his cheek, Chris Watts continued to hug half the people at the Mohegan Sun.
“He is a great man, a man of great passion,” Davis said.
Also a coach of state champions.