Danny Drinon, a Bangor High School all-time great, classy basketball player, died Wednesday at his home in Kennebunkport at age 77.
Danny and I were friends who grew up together and teammates on the 1953-54 and ‘54-55 Bangor High teams. We played a lot of basketball at my two-basket backyard court in the early to mid 1950’s.
Danny was a three-year starter at Bangor High, which did not include freshmen on its teams at that time. In his junior year, he led Bangor to a third-place finish in the New England Schoolboy Tournament held at old Boston Garden.
He was named first-team All-New-England for his three-game performances of 23 points in the quarterfinal win over Burlington, Vermont; 27 points in the semifinal loss to Roger Ludlow of Fairfield, Connecticut; and 22 points in a win over tourney favorite, Hillhouse of New Haven, Connecticut, in the consolation game for third place.
For all three nights, the attendance was close to 14,000.
That Bangor team went 21-2 and has been considered by many Bangor basketball experts to be one of the best, if not the best Bangor High basketball team of all time.
In December of the 1955-56 season, Danny’s senior year, he helped open up the then new Bangor Auditorium with an opening-season win. The Rams went on to repeat as Eastern Maine Class L champions, but Morse High of Bath avenged a state-final loss to Bangor the previous season by capturing the state title.
After his senior season, Danny was named to the BDN’s first All-Maine Boys Basketball Team.
He traveled over 3,000 miles to Ventura Junior College in California where he was a starting guard. His performance at VJC earned him a spot on the University of San Francisco Dons after they had won NCAA championships with Bill Russell and KC Jones.
Because there was little TV coverage of college basketball at that time, Danny’s college playing days didn’t gain much attention back on the East coast.
At 5-foot-10, Danny was an outstanding shooter, ball handler, and dribbler. He was one of the very best of Bangor’s version of Keith Mahaney — who went on to star at the University of Maine — in his ability to handle a basketball.
In games Bangor won easily, Danny sometimes barely scored double figures, but in the big games and clutch situations he was a big-time player who always rose to the occasion, as demonstrated in the New England tourney.
He was the type of player who made his teammates better. You had to be ready at all times when Danny had the ball because if you were open he would find a way to get you the ball.
He loved basketball and from an early age you could tell he was destined to do big things in the sport.
He also had a great two-handed set shot, but he played at a time when there was no 3-point line and the clock only stopped during the game on timeouts, jump balls and fouls.
Ben Graffam was another one of Bangor’s all-time great point guards, who I coached during my time with the Rams. He played in the mid-1970s. His father, Paul Graffam, is known locally as a Bangor High School basketball historian.
He had high words of praise for Danny Drinon.
“Danny Drinon could have started on any Bangor High School team over the years as a sophomore,” Paul Graffam said.
“I believe his three games in the New England’s was the greatest high school tournament performance of any Maine high school player I ever saw,” Graffam added.
Looking back to those days, I consider myself very luck to have been with Danny and witness his love of basketball as his teammate.
Danny is remembered by many as a great basketball player, but to his friends he was a greater person, friend and teammate.
Answer to last week’s trivia question: What boys Eastern Maine basketball team has won championships in all four classes? John Bapst: Class L (A) 1942, Class B 1993, Class C 1989, Class D 1980.