An FCIAC afterthought for the past decade, if not longer, the New Canaan basketball team had to adjust to the national exposure it has received since last Thursday, right after Ryan McAleer’s improbable halfcourt shot gave the Rams a dramatic 52-49 win over Stamford.
The video of the shot — McAleer had to catch at halfcourt an inbounds pass from the baseline with 0.9 seconds left and release it immediately, then the ball had to go in — went viral. ESPN picked it up and it made the SportsCenter Top 10. At least another dozen national outlets were granted permission use it.
McAleer now has a few hundred more Instagram followers than he did on Thursday at 9.
“It has been a little crazy with the social media,” McAleer said. “As soon as I made the shot I was speechless. Once I saw it on SportsCenter it kind of hit me and I sat down and realized I was on SportsCenter and it was something I always dreamed of as a kid. It was unreal. It was pretty cool. It’s crazy. Even talking about it now it’s unbelievable.”
We are in an age when an iPhone and social media can deliver instant fame, as the Rams now know. The millions who have watched the video had no idea this was a team that had not made the state playoffs, where you need to win just 40 percent of your games to qualify, in over a decade.
“I think the kids are a little bit into it more than I am, and that’s the way it should be,” New Canaan coach Danny Melzer said. “It is pretty cool to see so many media outlets pick up the highlights of the game-winning shot. It was really an amazing finish. I’ve been watching sports my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just so improbable the way it happened. It is something I’ll never forget and more important something the kids will never forget the rest of their lives.”
So many components had to be completed for McAleer to even be in a position to make good on his opportunity. The Rams had to overcome a 10-point deficit early in the third quarter. Stamford had to miss the front end of two one-and-ones. Fishman had to grab an offensive rebound and get fouled attempting a 3-point shot with 0.9 seconds left and make all three free throws. McAleer had to leave the player he was guarding to intercept the pass.
Fishman’s contribution initially got overshadowed, but in the days since a greater appreciation for his clutch play has followed. One comment on social media said he was deserving of a best supporting actor award.
“I went to the line and they called a timeout to ice me,” Fishman said. “We work hard in practice for these situations. I just went to the line and I’m glad I was able to help the team. It was both our efforts that helped the team win. His shot was a great shot. It was just great win and I’m just happy that it went viral.”
Melzer came to New Canaan three years ago from Stamford, where he had success as both a player and coach. He was a popular sports figure in the community and he was initially labeled a traitor. A number of family and friends from Stamford were at Thursday’s game.
“The overwhelming support, I can’t appreciate it enough,” Melzer said. It was really nice to hear from a lot of different people. It made me feel really good because leaving Stamford was very difficult for me so to have so many people from Stamford High and former colleagues and players reach out and congratulate me made me feel really good.”
Now comes the difficult part: compartmentalizing the fanfare. The Rams are 6-2 over all. They won just five last year. It would be shocking if they fail to win two more games and qualify for the state playoffs.
But the FCIAC Tournament is another goal, and a realistic one. What happens going forward, starting with tonight’s game at home against Trinity Catholic, will determine whether Thursday’s win is a confidence boost and another stepping stone toward the end game or a burden that sinks the Rams.
That was Melzer’s message to the team on Saturday.
“We’re obviously thrilled to be 6-2 and how we got to be 6-2, but I told the kids we still have two-thirds of our season,” Melzer said. “Our goals are to make the state tournament and the FCIAC playoffs and we haven’t met either of those goals. Friday we didn’t have any practice so they got to enjoy the victory for a full 24 hours, and they deserved that. Part of sports is moving on and turning the page and what we have to focus on now is turning the page and focusing on Trinity.”
Melzer was encouraged that Saturday’s practice was a strong one. In a season when the difference between the top and bottom of the league is narrow, the Rams are going to have to accumulate wins in a number of what now appear to be pick-’em games to fill their postseason cards.
“It’s something I’ll never forget but once I step on the court it doesn’t matter what happened on Thursday in that specific moment,” McAleer said. “Now that most teams have seen it they want to beat us and we have a target on our back a little bit so we have to come out ready to play.”
The Rams with a target on their backs. Imagine that statement being made just four days ago.
No. 1 Trumbull (8-1, 5-0) vs. No. 8 Trinity Catholic (5-3, 3-2)
No. 2 Danbury (6-2, 5-1) vs. No. 7 Ridgefield (5-3, 3-2)
No. 3 St. Joseph (6-1, 5-0) vs. No. 6 New Canaan (6-2, 3-2)
No. 4 Fairfield Warde (5-2, 3-1) vs. No. 5 Wilton (6-2, 3-1)