Former NVL basketball rivals join forces 

From left, Waterbury’s Jay Turner, Gaeley Etienne and Kerwin Prince and Naugatuck’s John Lukau are playing for the new postgraduate basketball team at Notre Dame of West Haven. –CONTRIBUTED

Once fierce rivals, Naugatuck’s John Lukau and Waterbury’s Kerwin Prince, Jay Turner and Gaeley Etienne have joined forces in the new postgraduate prep school basketball program at Notre Dame High in West Haven.

The Green Knights are 9-6 halfway through the season.

Lukau, a shooting guard who was among the Naugatuck Valley League’s leading scorers last season, became the first of the four to enroll at Notre Dame. He called Turner, a former standout at Kennedy. Then Prince, the NVL’s leading scorer out of Crosby, and Etienne, the point guard at Holy Cross, joined the fold.

That was good news to Nick DeFeo, the Green Knights’ head coach, who felt fortunate to get some of the NVL’s elite players at the day school.

Lukau feels lucky, too.

“Jay is our floor general and communicates so well with everyone,” said Lukau of Turner. “He has that attack-mode personality on the court. He’s a really good leader.”

How about the 6-foot-6 forward Prince, who is the Green Knights’ leading scorer (14.7 ppg.) and rebounder (6.7 per game)?

“Kerwin is our best player, and he brings so much strength and passion to the court,” Lukau said.

What about Etienne, who may stand only 5-foot-5, but whose desire sets him apart from others.

“Gaeley is definitely the heart and soul of the team,” Lukau said. “He is always hustling, and he always has to prove himself (because of his height) and he knows it.”

Etienne said he feeds off the energy of his former NVL buddies.

“It’s been great to get a feel to see what they can do, working with them instead of against them,” said Etienne, 19. “They and the rest of the team are helping me become a better overall player. My goal right now is to become more consistent shooting from the outside and instinctively get a sense for the gaps and create opportunities for my teammates. I’m also working on becoming more aggressive offensively to the basket.”

Prince, 18, has made a smooth transition to the prep game. He said the biggest adjustment is waking up at 6 a.m. and commuting 45 minutes to West Haven and arriving home well past 11 p.m. on game days.

Prince received the NVL’s Lt. John Cullinan Award for sportsmanship.

“I’ve been focusing on conditioning my body and mind and pushing harder, a lot harder,” Prince said. “My stamina is way better than it was last year and that has helped my overall game.”

Turner said his individual weight training at the Greater Waterbury YMCA has increased as he continues to learn the rigors of playing at the prep level.

“The competition we’re facing every night is so good,” Turner said. “All of our opponents have a really high caliber of talent. The speed of the game is so much faster, and you have to be prepared for it. Our practices are way more intense, more like at the college level. I try to bring a certain type of passion and bring everyone’s intensity up and get everyone involved.”

DeFeo said Turner has “embraced the captain’s role and is helping make others around him better.”

Among them is Lukau.

“John is one of the most talented players we have on the roster. His skill set is there,” DeFeo said. “Now he is learning how to play the game the right way.”

So does Prince.

“Kerwin brings plenty of energy each day and a lot of physicality,” DeFeo said. “He’s a big strong kid with a great personality.”

A likeable personality is among Etienne’s top qualities, too.

“Gaeley might have the biggest heart on our team,” DeFeo said. “He’s always playing extremely hard and fighting for what he wants. He is a phenomenal defender and shoots the three very well.”