Development of the state’s tallest basketball team was difficult to predict

Last year I wrote a column offering advice to late bloomers from personal experience as a late bloomer.
I received a very nice response from last week’s column, from a brother of a player I had at Orono in 1969, where I wrote a little more about late bloomers.
So I thought this week I should share a column about a group of late bloomers going on to become the tallest high school basketball team in the history of Maine basketball.
In fact, this season of 2012-13 is the 20th anniversary of this John Bapst team that went undefeated (22-0) and won the state Class B title.
I was fortunate to coach this team.
When this team’s seniors were freshmen they all played on the John Bapst freshman team and had a record of 6-10.
They had one player, center Ken Rassi, who was over 6-foot and he was 6-2. Jason Webster was a 5-9 forward, Peter Murray was a 5-11 forward and forward Dorian LeBlanc was 5-8.
When they were seniors they all had grown to become 6-11, 6-8, 6-8 and 6-4, respectively.
No one could have predicted that they would all grow so much over their high school careers.
Entering the 1992-93 season, we had only two starters returning, Rassi and junior shooting guard Mark Baxter. We had to find a new point guard and decided on LeBlanc for that very important position. He worked extremely hard in the summer and developed into an outstanding point guard. He was our best defender.
We started a team that was and still is the tallest high school team to ever play in Maine high school basketball.
Rassi was 6-11 at center, Webster and Murray were both 6-8 forwards, Baxter was 6-2 and LeBlanc 6-4. Our first sub off the bench was 6-3 sophomore Norman Loukes.
Our offense was very simple: pound the ball inside to our big post players and take advantage of all the mismatches our size caused for our opponents.
This team went undefeated in the regular season, won the Eastern Maine title and the state crown to finish 22-0.
In the state final, Rassi got in serious foul trouble in the first half and only played 12 minutes. However, he was 9-for-9 from the floor and 2-for-2 from the line for 20 points when he sat down with six minutes to go in the first half.
We had to sit him out until the final four minutes of the game. so we posted up Webster and Murray and went on to the win the game with Rassi playing only 16 minutes.
This team had confidence that they could still win this game with Rassi on the bench because of an exhibition game against Winthrop, the Class C state champions that year, when we trailed Winthrop by 17 and came back to win even though Rassi had fouled out.
Not only were we the tallest team in high school that year, we were also taller than any college team in the state, including Division I Maine.
When these Bapst players were freshmen, if you would have told me or any other basketball person that they would go on to an unbeaten, state-title season, then
we’d strongly disagree.
However, nobody can project what is really going to happen in a three-year span.
I know for a fact many of my better players over the years were late bloomers. They were the ones that fell off the basketball horse many times, but got back on.
They had the desire to get better and never gave up. It was a pleasure to coach this great group of players.
We used to look at the size of the players parents and relatives to try to project size. Then we thought that shoe or sneaker size gave some indication of a person’s final height. Then we went to measuring the length of the femur bone.
However, these were just guesses, but today if you X-ray the wrist bone, an orthopedic doctor may be able to give you the final height of a person within a half an inch.
Rassi had an injured wrist the fall of his sophomore year and he was 6-5. After he had his wrist X-rayed, the doctor who examined him asked if he would like to know how tall he would be and Rassi said yes.
The doctor told him he would be 7-1 and that is the height he was when he finished growing in college.
If I ever go back into coaching, I know I would budget to have the wrists of all candidates X-rayed before they tried out as incoming freshmen.

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