psa pg 7 9-22-22

Members of the boys’ prep basketball team began trickling onto the Putnam Science Academy campus two weekends ago. This week, college coaches began pouring onto campus, coming to the small gym in downtown Putnam to watch Tom Espinosa’s players and look for the next pieces for their respective teams. And about six weeks from now, the curtain will go up on the 2022-23 season, and once again Putnam Science Academy — the three-time national prep champion — will be everyone’s biggest game of the season.
It’s been that way for maybe seven or eight years now, since the Mustangs became The Mustangs. Espinosa, the basketball coach and the school’s dean of Athletics, is coming off a season in which his team went 38-0 and won that third national crown, garnering him his first National Prep Coach of the Year award. He also won his 400th career game, a wild number for a small school in Putnam, Conn. And he was named one of the 100 Most Impactful People in men’s college basketball, a list that included names you have heard of – Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Bill Self, John Calipari, to name a few.
As Espinosa readies for the upcoming year, his 21st at PSA and 15th as coach, he acknowledged to taking some time this summer to reflect on the accomplishments of last season. And it led him to think too about the journey the school itself has been on, since long before they were The Mustangs.
“I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly with this place,” said Espinosa, who was there when it opened in 2002 and eventually built up to 200 students. And he was there when the doors were going to close in May 2015 only to be rescued and reopened in the fall by a new owner.
Espinosa had the opportunity to go to another school when PSA supposed to close in 2015. After a long and emotional back-and-forth — which included literally being unable to pack his office because of the heaviness of the moment — he ultimately decided to stay with the incoming ownership.
“I’ve seen the school build up basically from scratch, twice,” Espinosa said. “And the thing that has always been true is that there is so much good in this place that people don’t know about.”
Since he decided to stay, PSA has won three national championships, in 2018, 2020, and 2022. And the smaller numbers mean more to him than the big ones. Things like winning all 38 games in a season, capturing title No. 3, or being ranked No. 1 in the country carry more weight for him than winning 400 games or being on a Top 100 list.
There are some big numbers that are meaningful to him, though.
The boys’ basketball program has helped place roughly 200 players onto college basketball teams at all levels. The girls’ basketball program has sent more than 30 players into the college ranks in just five years. And the boys’ soccer team has helped 20-plus find a college home in that same span.
“Putnam Science has its ups and downs, like any place,” Espinosa said. “But the bottom line is we’re giving kids an opportunity to be successful. And I am proud of that.”
So is Head of School Sarah Healey, who said the respect the students and staff have for Espinosa, the longest-tenured person at the school, is well-deserved.
“It takes a team to give these kids the opportunity,” she said. “The leadership that Tom brings allows the students to make mistakes and grow while always being held accountable. The student’s education comes first, and he understands and respects that when dealing with his student-athletes.”
All too often, outsiders roll their eyes at the success PSA has enjoyed (namely that of the prep basketball team) and assume the kids are athletes first and students second, which Dean of Academics Joanne Fuller disputes.
“We’re still a little scrappy,” she said, “but we are building a diverse, active, intellectual community. Most importantly our students feel nurtured and seen by the many adults in their lives from the moment they set foot on campus.” Espinosa, who highlighted the accountability charts all PSA teams use to track their players’ on-and off-court merits each week, acknowledged that being called a basketball school means you are having success, but added “basketball doesn’t have to take away from everything else that a school is supposed to be and do, and we don’t do that here. When you think about Duke University, the first thing you think about is their basketball team. But Duke is one the best schools in the country. “They’re not apologizing either. So just because we’re successful at basketball, it doesn’t take away from those other things.”
By Stephen Nalbandian
Sports Information Director
Putnam Science Academy


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