The Great Granby: Bears Turned Golden With School's First State Boys Basketball Title

A come-from-behind, thrilling Class S boys basketball title has earned Granby the spot of the cover of the winter All-Courant section. (Stephen Dunn)

GRANBY — The day after Avon had routed Granby by 35 points in the NCCC boys basketball tournament title game, Granby coach Wally Hansen pondered what could motivate his team for the upcoming Class S tournament.

He turned to the sun — the Mohegan Sun Arena, site of the state championship game.

Hansen drew a smiling, circular sun face with “Mohegan” on its forehead on the team whiteboard in the locker room. Above it he wrote an inspirational quote from Celtics coach Doc Rivers: “I know you all want to win. . . but you have to do it TOGETHER!”

“I put it up because I didn’t want the season to end for these guys,” Hansen said

The Bears rebounded from that 71-36 loss to Avon on Feb. 28 to defeat East Hampton 77-72, Old Saybrook 58-45, Kolbe Cathedral-Bridgeport 56-54 and Weaver-Hartford 83-81 in double overtime for the championship.

“We saw that Mohegan sun every day after Avon,” Granby forward Carlin Champion said. “We knew we didn’t play hard in that game. We knew we were better than that.”

The Bears were determined to make history in a town known more for scoring high school soccer goals than basketball field goals.

Granby has won or shared 11 state titles in 15 boys soccer title games. Its boys basketball team never played in a title game until March 16 at Mohegan Sun Arena.

That day is forever known in Granby sports lore. The No. 3 seeded Bears trailed No. 25 Weaver 40-19 early in the third quarter.

Granby’s trapping defense contributed to 21 Weaver turnovers the rest of the game and fueled the Bears’ offense.

With 9 seconds left, Granby trailed 68-65. Brett Buser split two defenders and made a three-pointer with 3.4 seconds to go to send the game to the first OT.

“When that went in, I said, ‘There’s no way we’re going to lose,’ “ forward David Eke said.

Champion blocked a Joseph Brown shot with 3 seconds remaining in the first overtime, sending the game to a second OT.

Granby, led by Buser’s 23 points and Mike Noyes’ 19, wouldn’t be denied.

“When the final horn went off, it was the best feeling I ever had,” Buser said.

Estimates of the number of Granby fans at Mohegan Sun Arena ranged from 2,500 to 4,000. The population of Granby, according to the town website, is around 11,000.

After the game, the team ate at Michael Jordan’s 23 cafe outside the arena. “Seeing the joy in all the players’ eyes, I’ll never forget it,” Hansen said.

The celebration didn’t end at Jordan’s.

When the team bus crossed the Granby town line, it got a police escort to the high school. Parents and fans gave the team a rousing ovation when the players stepped off the bus.