As Patrick Sellers’ second season approaches, Central Connecticut men’s basketball players bond with the community and spend a day with “Beautiful Life” visitors

NEW BRITAIN — At one station visitors learned the intricacies of rebounding, at another ball handling, at another shooting. Kevin VanVoorhis looked like he was having fun, with assists from Central Connecticut basketball players Dion Perkins and DJ Holloway.

“For Kevin, it’s good to have interaction with his peers,” said Zofia Bogli, who brought a group of seven from Favarh, a nearby community for people with disabilities. “For him to actually be here to be at an event like this, to share, to clap his friends, to be one with a team. He’s proud of himself right now, I can tell. They have problems on a daily basis and it’s something he looks forward to.

In another corner, Rachel Desires calls for help and Central’s Kyle Rocker comes out to help line up her shot. At the ‘Money Station’, baskets counted to crown a winning group, with Nigel Scantlebury and Kellen Amos watching.

“I just appreciate the smiles on the faces,” said Scantlebury, a senior who will lead CCSU in a new season starting Nov. 7. “Everything with basketball is serious, so doing an event like this is a breath of fresh air. They don’t know they’re actually doing our daytime.”

The 40 visitors were on the grounds of Detrick Gym under the auspices of the Beautiful Lives Project, a national non-profit organization that empowers people with disabilities to actively participate in activities and events that may not have been available to them. It was founded by Anthony Iacovone, owner of the New Britain Bees baseball team, and Bryce Weiler, who, despite being blind, worked on baseball radio shows for various professional teams, including the Yard Goats.

Central Connecticut men's basketball player Kyle Rocker helps Rachel Desires line up a shot during a visit Wednesday from participants in the Beatiful Life project, which brings people with disabilities out of their surroundings to participate in activities like this one.  (Dom Amore/Hartford Courant)

Events like this are held all over the country. Over the past week, visits with Central’s football and men’s basketball teams have brought them closer to home.

“We promote social inclusion through sporting events, arts and crafts, music, dance, cheerleading,” said Tony Gionfriddo, Executive Director of Beautiful Lives. “Anything we can do to take our participants out of their environment and feel like – today they are part of central basketball, last Saturday they were part of central football. Central, I couldn’t be prouder, as I’m from New Britain. They were great, the players were great. We have people with disabilities here, you have people who are fortunate enough not to have disabilities here, and we want to bring them together. »

The visit helped coach Patrick Sellers, in his second season back at his alma mater, passing on the commitment to community service he learned during his many coaching stops, including UConn, where he was one of Jim Calhoun’s assistants, to his current players. The Blue Devils were 8-23 last season and were picked sixth by Northeastern Conference coaches to start this season, but have more experience and cohesion now that seven freshmen are stayed and committed for the second year.

“We had seven new guys come in who had never played college basketball,” Sellers said. “We were saying new terminology that they had never heard before, it was a whole new world for them. Now having a whole summer, a whole pre-season, it’s like having a group of veterans and they knew what we were talking about. We could put a new game now and these guys will pick it up like that.

Davonte Sweatman, who didn’t play much last year, vowed he would work and improve and show Sellers he could play, “and he’s been a very, very big leader for us”, Sellers said. Jayden Brown, who was slowed down last season with COVID and Abdul Momah, recovered from an ankle injury, have made a big improvement. The versatile Kellen Amos, a 6-foot-7 transfer from Binghamton figures to play a big role. Scantlebury, who averaged 13.4 points and was an all-NEC preseason selection, and Joe Ostrowski, who played 17 minutes as a freshman, return to the roster. State players include Perkins of Seymour and Holloway of Orange, Tre Breland of Hamden and Brody Limric of Glastonbury.

“We get it back much faster,” Scantlebury said. “Even freshmen, they have a lot of knowledge. What Coach tells us, we are able to teach the younger ones.

Building a connected team, not so easy in the era of easy transfer, and connecting it to the surrounding community, are tasks for Sellers, 53, who was an assistant at eight schools before landing his first head coaching job .

“My story, I’m just a baller,” Sellers said. “If I could still play, I would be playing right now. When you deal with young people, you have to know them and talk to them, not just about basketball, but about life. So one of the big steps for me was getting to know these guys, taking them around campus. I am getting better. I feel a lot more confident, I do it for a year, I see how guys react, I know when to attack, I know when to back up, games after timeout.

At the end of the morning session, Sellers invited visitors to the Beautiful Life Project to come back and see his team in action. Central begins its season at UMass on November 7, opens at home against Quinnipiac on November 13.

“When I was here as a player, coach [Howie Dickenman] would always do something at Christmas for the homeless,” Sellers said. “We went to schools and read to children. He was always passionate about community service, and our guys got better and better. I would go with Coach Calhoun and he had his food drive. Guys like Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond that I coached in the past, they had things to do with community service. It’s teaching these guys to give back.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com

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