Postgraduates Proving to be Winners On and Off the Court
Varsity Basketball Head Coach Matt Mihalich says the three postgraduates on his team this year are special. He says this is not just because of their skills on the court, but because of how quickly they have adapted to life at Avon Old Farms and how easily they connected with the rest of the team.
“Obviously for the four other seniors on the team, they’ve been here four or five years already and their relationship with the school reflects that. For the postgrads, they have to fall in love with Avon almost as soon as they’re getting ready to leave. What makes these three guys special is it’s as if they were with the other four seniors the whole time.”
The fact that these three players have integrated into the team so seamlessly is already impressive, but it’s even more remarkable when you consider the vastly varying backgrounds they come from.
Matthew Curtis ’23 is originally from Ellington, Conn. He grew up playing basketball for his town before eventually attending Northwest Catholic High School. He showed significant growth and improvement each season and eventually led his team to the state championship his senior year.
He racked up a school record: 1,911 points during his time at Northwest Catholic, despite his sophomore and junior seasons being shortened due to COVID-19. Curtis was encouraged to become a Winged Beaver by Avon senior Jared Flaks after the two had played together for a local AAU team. While other schools were considered, he ultimately chose to come to Avon.
“When COVID hit, I knew I had to do a PG year. I went on a tour here and just thought it had the best culture, and I thought it was the best school for me.”
Christian Moore ’23 expressed a similar sentiment when asked why he chose Avon Old Farms for his PG year. “Coach Mihalich got me down here on a visit, and I just knew this was the place I wanted to be. I loved the vibe of campus; everyone was really approachable. Something in my mind said, ‘yes, this is where I want to be.’”
Unlike Curtis, who grew up less than an hour away from The Farm, Moore had to travel a bit further to attend Avon. Moore was born and raised in Pasadena, Calif. He says he knew he wanted to play basketball since he was just seven years old.
“Basketball has always been my sport. I was just always really good at it, and I saw a future in it.”
He played in the Los Angeles area until his junior year of high school, when he transferred to Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts. He continued to improve on his natural abilities, and eventually reached the National Prep Championship final his senior year.
While Moore had to cross the country to join this tight-knit team, Jeffrey Akintolu ’23 had to cross an ocean. Akintolu is from southeast London, England, where he grew up playing a plethora of sports including soccer, rugby, track and field, and swimming.
Amazingly, Akintolu did not start playing basketball until he was 14. He quickly realized that basketball was the sport he was truly meant to play, so at the age of 16 he enrolled at The Kiski School, an all-boys boarding school in Pennsylvania, to further his development.
Unfortunately for Akintolu, COVID-19 disrupted his first season, and then he tore his Achilles tendon, which prevented him from playing for months. “Obviously, I was really upset, but then I had to think about the next steps.”
The next steps meant enrolling somewhere for a postgraduate year, and after looking at a few other schools, Akintolu decided that Avon Old Farms was the best fit.
Curtis, Moore, and Akintolu met with their new team for the first time over the summer for the 2022 NEPSAC NCAA Scholastic Showcase, a series of tournaments between New England prep schools attended by collegiate scouts and coaches.
“It was kind of weird meeting for the first time then playing,” Akintolu says. “But I think we just clicked.”
The showcase took place on the weekends of June 18-19 and June 25-26. During the week in between, Coach Mihalich and his team helped run the Avon Old Farms youth basketball camp.
“During that eight-day stretch, things really came together. It’s a great environment for developing character, both playing the game, and working with little ones,” Mihalich says. “They were able to recognize the good in one another and now it’s second nature.”
Moore says that he recognized right away that there is a level of maturity in the team that has allowed them to recognize each other’s strengths. Akintolu agrees. “We know what we’re good at, and we all want the best for each other,” he says. “We’re all pretty unselfish. We want what’s best for the team.”
They agree that knowing each other’s strengths leads to a better team performance and better overall results. “You just want to play with guys who you trust, and who trust you,” Moore says.
“I think our skills all benefit each other really well, too,” Curtis says.
Part of what has helped bring this group together is a common goal. “We know this is our last year to do something in our high school career. I think we all just want to win,” Moore says.
In a boarding school environment, teammates don’t just get together for practices and game day. They eat meals together, have class together, and more.
“We’re just always with each other,” Akintolu says. “That translates well to on the court.”
Curtis says there is a positive energy within the team that helps maintain the strong chemistry they’ve built. “Even when we lose, no one is blaming each other, no one is negative.”
This year, the Varsity Basketball team has stepped up their game, and Coach Mihalich attributes that in part to the fact that his three newest players have fully bought into the program. “Talent makes them special, but buying in brings them to a whole new level. This is a team that I absolutely love coaching.”
He says that this season, the team has already beaten teams that they haven’t beaten in years due to the character of his players. “I’m really proud of these guys. It’s nice to watch them be successful on the court, because the other 22 hours of the day they’re winners. I’m proud to be able to say they play basketball for Avon Old Farms.”
For those looking to see these winners in action, the school is hosting a pre-game reception in the Commons Room of the Brown Student Center on Saturday, February 11, beginning at 4:30 p.m. The Varsity Basketball game against Taft School will then tip-off at 6:30 p.m. on Cole Court. All current parents and alumni are invited.