As my Husson College jersey number 12 was being retired Saturday at Newman Gym in Bangor, I thanked the Lord for late Husson basketball coach Del Merrill’s phone call to me on an October Wednesday in 1955.
If he hadn’t made that call, I wouldn’t have met my wife, Judy, of 56 years, and wouldn’t have been involved with basketball for the rest of my life.
As a part-time starter and mostly sixth man for the 1954-55 Bangor High Rams (21-3), I averaged five points a game for a team that won the Class L state title and finished third in the New England tourney at the old Boston Garden. Some consider that team Bangor’s best ever.
Following graduation, I thought my basketball career was over. I turned 18 that September, had to register for the draft and was waiting to be drafted when out of the blue Coach Merrill called and asked if I’d consider coming to Husson to play basketball..
He’d asked several knowledgeable area basketball people if I could contribute to Husson basketball and some thought I could have been a full-time starter at Bangor and definitely could be a late bloomer.
I told him I didn’t know if I agreed and I hadn’t been recruited by any other colleges, but he said he agreed with the evaluations and he wanted to give me an opportunity to prove him and those people right.
My concerns about being behind in classes ended after I took placement tests and passed them. Several days after the phone call, I started my first day of college and took part in the season’s first basketball practice.
It had been seven months since I had touched a basketball, but once I got back in condition, I surprisingly found myself stronger physically, much improved and a starter for the first game of the season, visiting Washington State Teachers College at Machias and playing almost 40 minutes, scoring 33 points.
Behind Del’s motivation and coaching, I went on to become the school’s first 1,000-point scorer and set 25 records. Our team won Husson’s first basketball championship of any kind, went unbeaten in the Northeast College Conference regular season and won the Maine Small College championship.
Concerning the records, the two most important to me were averaging 14 rebounds and eight assists per game for my career because the goals were always team wins and making my team better.
At the time, some were surprised that I went from a part-time Bangor starter to finishing with a 27.4 scoring average at Husson. Maturing, playing full-time, proving a point and a coach who could motivate were the factors that did so.
Before that first game my freshman year, Del took me aside to remind me of the opportunity to prove to others, him and myself that I should have been a high school starter.
That was Del’s motivation. He said “if you play to prove a point you can take yourself to another playing level”.
Boy, was he right as it became the foundation of my Husson career and Del Merrill deserves all the credit.
For that, I will be forever thankful to him and for the phone call he made that changed my life.