With tourney time underway in Bangor, Augusta and Portland, lots of memorable moments are resurfacing for me from my years of coaching high school basketball.
I have lots of great memories from those 29 seasons, but there are three teams from three different schools that are perennial favorites.
— The Orono Red Riots, the 1967 Class B state champs. This team was built from scratch as eighth- and ninth-graders they played on the freshman team, which I coached along with the varsity.
Following a 6-11 season, finishing ninth and just missing the tournament, the next year they reached the Eastern Maine B finals, losing to Ellsworth 76-72. The next season they won the Class B state title, defeating a strong Mexico team in Lewiston 62-50.
It was a coach’s dream to be a part of coaching players on a freshman team and watching them grow into a state-championship club while being their only coach for four seasons in a row. Athletes such as Sean Casey, Norm Prouty, Dave Graves, Willie Gavett, and Wayne Arsenault were players who went through this complete building process from eighth-graders and freshmen of not making the tourney to winning a state championship and finishing 21-1.
— The 1969-70 Bangor Rams. This was my first year at Bangor, replacing my legendary high school coach, Red Barry, whose name now graces the Bangor High court.
My first Bangor team was a senior-dominated squad that had not made the tournament for two years and were not expected to challenge for an Eastern Maine Class A championship.
I then based much of my coaching philosophy that I learned playing for coach Barry on the 1954-55 Bangor team that won the Class L (now AA) state championship. That team then finished third in the New England Schoolboy Tournament after upsetting Hillhouse High School of New Haven, Conn., 66-60 in the consolation game.
My 1969-70 Bangor team opened the season by beating Fort Fairfield then upsetting the Stearns Minutemen at the Bangor Auditorium. Many local experts were picking Stearns to win the state title. Stearns beat us at Millinocket and we went on to finish 14-4, third in the Heal point standings.
In the tournament, my Rams defeated the sixth-ranked Skowhegan Indians and then upset the second-seeded Cony Rams before losing in the Eastern Maine A final to Stearns and finishing 16-5. Such players as Bobby McKernan, John Sutherland, Billy Magee, Claude McGinley, John Rice, Randy Prouty and Fred Abbott were part of that memorable Bangor team.
— The 1989-90 John Bapst Crusaders. This team returned just one full-time starter and one part-time starter from a team that won the 1988-89 Class C state championship after reaching the Class C Eastern Maine finals in my first season at John Bapst.
This 1989-90 team was not expected to be able to defend its state championship and many thought the Crusaders might not make the tournament. However, the players who had been involved in the program as freshmen, junior varsity and varsity players those two years had other ideas.
They had seen how the two previous teams had employed the shuffle offense and controlled the tempo of the games to accomplish the Eastern C runner-up and state championship back-to-back. They believed if we controlled the tempo even more than we did those two previous years, that regardless of the talent on hand, we could surprise some people.
They were right. They really proved that a good fast team cannot make a good slow team go fast, but a good slow team can make a good fast team go slow. In doing so, they finished 19-3 as state Class C champions, beating Falmouth in the final 43-36. That followed victories over Woodland, Schenck and Washington Academy in the Eastern C tourney.
Brett Soucy was the team’s leader while Rod Buswell, Greg Nichols, Chris Haas, Tom Bennett and Chris Corbin were the players that exceeded expectations and because of that, they are one of my all-time favorite teams that I coached.
During this busy week of Maine high school basketball, I’m hoping more players and coaches will cherish the opportunity to create their memorable tourney moments.