Published January 18. 2013 4:00AM
Montville - It is an everlasting testimony to Jere Quinn that his reputation in our corner of the world is exemplary. Maybe that's how he continues to draw kids like Gabe Levin to St. Thomas More and win basketball games without scholarships, even in a prep school climate that's not as pristine as the term "prep school" might suggest.
It wasn't long ago that Levin was a high school senior in Oak Park, Ill., a hamlet just west of Chicago, whose considerable geographic distance from Montville symbolizes its drastic differences in lifestyle from the pastoral shores of Gardner Lake.
And yet Levin's brief experiences here have solidified his study habits, widened his scope of college choices and led the Chancellors to a 16-1 record entering this weekend's Founder's Tournament on the campus' cozy gym (capacity: 232).
"My dad looked up St. Thomas More," Levin was saying Wednesday night after STM's 16th win, a dusting of the Post University's junior varsity. "I played against Andre Drummond the summer of my junior year. I found out he played here and figured he must have learned something."
This is the way it goes in Quinn's program. He can't really leave campus to recruit, so he relies on referrals from alumni and others whose lives have been touched by the place. Two of Quinn's players this season are the sons of former players.
"St. Thomas More makes you tougher," Levin said. "They don't just tell you to study. They teach you how. And basketball-wise, I've learned more of the game. Picking coach's brain makes you a better player."
Quinn hasn't lost an inch off his fastball. Classic scene from Wednesday: One of Quinn's players got called for a push. And so Quinn stared quizzically at the guilty official, palms up, glasses dangling from his neck held by those librarian chain-looking things.
"Push? Push?" he said. "He's never pushed anybody in his life! I beg him to push!"
Of course, Quinn isn't the only character in Levin's life. Gabe is the nephew of the great Jay Levin, a respected lobbyist and former New London mayor and state representative.
"The first day I was here, my uncle took me to Mr. G's," Levin said. "Good pizza."
Figure that with Levin's 230-pound frame and 6-foot, 7-inch height, he can put it away, too. Levin, a small forward, has an estimable combination of athletic skills and basketball instinct. That's why he's gone from Loyola of Chicago and Colgate interested in him to George Washington and several others. Providence coach Ed Cooley and BC coach Steve Donahue have kicked the tires, too.
"I averaged 20 and 10 my senior year and got nothing," Levin said. "I don't care about being noticed. But it puts a chip on my shoulder to work hard every day. Coach always says I should go somewhere where I can play a lot.
"I have two choices," Levin said. "Go to a high Division I, and maybe I can still get there but maybe I have to wait to play, or go to a mid-major and play right away."
Levin is a walking, talking example of St. Thomas More's charm. Did he really, truly, honestly, need to be here? Probably not. But it's going to be the difference in his future college experience. On the court and off.
"It was hard at first to go 15 minutes from a city to this rural nothing-to-do place," Levin said. "But you kind of get used to it. Change is a good thing. It gets you out of your comfort zone."
Now if only Levin could get out of his next comfort zone: being too nice.
"He's all about team first," Quinn said. "Sometimes, the best players have a little selfishness in them. His work ethic is wonderful. He gets it. He may be able to go to some really, really neat places if he gets a little more attitude. He gets it. Basketball, people, academics and life. I attribute the last part to having an Irish mother."
Levin was about to exit the gym Wednesday when it was suggested to him that maybe Mr. G's ought to send a few pizzas here for the players' postgame fare. Levin grinned.
"I have a better idea," he said. "Road trip."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.