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One visit all St. Joe's Prep's Tristen Guillouette needed to pick Fairfield

09/30/2023, 11:30am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

It only took one visit.

Tristen Guillouette went up to Fairfield University in early August, taking the trip up to Connecticut with his mother Annessa Ambrose. It was his first look at a school which began recruiting him earlier this summer, offering him a scholarship in late June, after the second weekend of Philly Live. 

Tristen Guillouette (above, during his junior season) is headed to Fairfield, he announced Friday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“I had a big talk with my mom about what I want my college experience to look like, a little bit after my visit at Fairfield,” he said, “and everything I talked about went along with what Fairfield was. So my mom was like, if that’s what you like and that’s what you want — why wait?”

Guillouette agreed. So he called up Fairfield head coach Jay Young and committed, becoming the first member of the Stags’ 2024 recruiting class. Then he waited more than a month before telling anybody outside of his family and close friends, finally making his announcement on Friday afternoon.

The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward from St. Joseph’s Prep had racked up a solid list of collegiate suitors, including St. Joe’s and Drexel in his final group as well as Towson. Staying local or going away from home didn’t matter to him; it was all about the feeling and the fit. And he found it in the private school of about 4,100 undergrads located in southern Connecticut, its campus just a couple miles from the Long Island Sound.

“It was a really nice campus, I like the team energy, I like the vibe I got from the coaches,” he said. “Everything about Fairfield just aligned with what I wanted in a college.”

A member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Fairfield last made the NCAA Tournament in 1997, and hasn’t had a winning season since 2017-18. Young, who previously was an assistant at Rutgers and Stony Brook, is going into his fifth season as head coach.

Guillouette’s main recruiter at Fairfield was James Johns, a Paulsboro (N.J.) product who coached with both Team Final and WeR1 before moving up into the collegiate ranks a few years back. It didn’t hurt that Johns got a stamp of approval from Guillouette’s high school coach, Jason Harrigan, and his coach with the NJ Scholars 17U squad, Kenny Jackson

Johns and Guillouette bonded over being South Jersey natives, connected with Guillouette’s goals of wanting to find a program where he could earn some playing time early on, to prepare himself for success as an upperclassman and beyond. 

“They said they would never steer me in the wrong direction, everything they tell me, good or bad, is going to be the truth,” he said. “They’re going to be direct with you because they want to see you do the best.”

Guillouette came to St. Joe’s Prep two years back as a skilled but out-of-shape post, part of a young and promising Hawks core. He had hoped to be granted a fifth year of eligibility by the PIAA, but his waiver was denied at a hearing earlier this month; his next move is still undecided. 

In his two years in the PCL, he established himself as one of the top posts around, averaging 10.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 3.0 apg and 3.0 bpg as the centerpiece of the Hawks’ guard-oriented attack this past year.

“It helped it a lot,” he said of his move over the bridge. “It helped me mature, definitely, playing with younger guys, but it made me a better player overall. I got in way better shape, I got way more mature mentally and on the court. Helped me learn the game really really well.”

Guillouette (above, in June) is in the best shape of his life after changing his diet and workout plan. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

There’s no doubt the biggest difference in Guillouette from two years ago is his physique. He’s dropped several dozen pounds over the last two years, the combination of cleaning up his diet — no more Chick-Fil-A sandwiches or other fried foods — and a much-improved workout plan, especially when it came to his cardiovascular work.

“During my sophomore year of AAU, I realized I’m not where I want to be, and it starts with my physique, my conditioning,” he said. “I made a little vow to myself — before I would touch a basketball I had to run two miles. [...] I just ran every time I touched a basketball, and I did that from the spring time to the summer, and that’s how I got in good shape. Now I’m lifting weights in between that.”

“He made a tremendous transformation physically, he was really intentional about getting in better shape, I think that’s obvious, everyone can see the difference there,” Harrigan said. “He worked on his game, his game got much improved, he’s a dynamic player now. And I think the other part was he really works hard in the classroom — when he first got there it was kind of tough for him, and he fought through it, really really pushed through. 

“He just changed from an academic standpoint, physically, and as a player, he really committed, and over the last two years I’ve seen tremendous growth in all of those areas.”

Before he gets to Fairfield’s campus, Guillouette said he’s going to keep working on that conditioning, to get himself in “college shape,” ready to handle not just the up-and-down but the physicality of the Division I game. The Stags have three forwards currently on the roster, including senior Alexis Yetna, but there should be an opportunity for him to earn some minutes if he’s ready next fall.

“Definitely want to improve my left hand — I feel like I can use both hands well, but I want to keep it sharp, use my left hand a little more,” he said. “And probably develop a better jumper.”

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