AUBURN — Each of Edward Little’s three senior starters has one goal in mind, but each brings something different to the Red Eddies’ success this season.
On Friday night, Ibn Khalid, Tyler Morin and Darby Shea could become the first seniors in 72 years to say they led Edward Little to a state championship.
“It would just be a dream come true,” Khalid said. “It’s every kid’s dream to win a state championship.”
If they succeed in their mission, each will likely play a unique role.
Shea is the Red Eddies’ leading scorer, having averaged 19.7 ppg during the season, fourth best in AA North.
Known mostly as a perimeter shooter who provided instant offense off the bench for coach Mike Adams the last couple of years, Shea diversified his game to become an all-around threat his senior year.
“I think Darby could go down as one of the greatest scorers I’ve ever coached,” Adams said. “He’s made himself into a better defensive player, a better rebounder and a better passer.”
Shea made himself a more dangerous scorer and more of a threat to set up his teammates by going to the hoop more.
“I think I’ve always had the ability to get to the rim, but I don’t think I ever really had the confidence,” he said. “So over the summer, playing a lot of pickup, some AAU, summer ball practice, I really worked on getting to the rim and worked on my handle.”
“He’s one of the strongest kids on the court most nights, so we said, ‘Listen you’re a great shooter, but if you can get yourself going to the rim some more, it will make us a strong team,'” Adams said.
Shea wasted no time exhibiting his ability to get to the rim, scoring 26 points against Oxford Hills opening night.
“In the past couple of years, teams have seen him as a catch-and-shoot type of guy, so they’ve were defending him that way,” Morin said. “This year, you can’t let him get by you anymore.”
Opponents quickly made Shea the focal point of his defense, which meant Adams and his staff had to do what coaches do, adjust off of adjustments.
“We’re doing a better job of running some things so that if he’s face-guarded he can get some touches and provide some opportunities for us,” Adams said.
It’s hard to imagine the Eddies would have their biggest opportunity on Friday if they didn’t have Khalid, who transferred from Lewiston over last summer.
Khalid now seems to fit in seamlessly as the slashing part of EL’s three-headed monster on offense, along with Shea and junior center Wol Maiwen. But it took some time for him to balance looking for his shot and setting up his teammates.
“I think as the season went by he really learned his role and learned how he could contribute,” Shea said. “He’s made it easier for Wol and me because he was a third player teams really had to focus on.”
Adams thinks the best may be yet to come for his top three offensive players.
“When they really figure out how to make each other better, it would be nice if it was (Friday), because we could really be explosive,” Adams said.
Khalid is more than just the Red Eddies’ third-leading scorer (13.6 ppg). The 6-foot-2 guard has become a vital part of their defensive game plan, versatile enough to shut down a 6-foot-4 guard as he did Matt Duchaine in the second half of the quarterfinal win over Cheverus, then handle a 6-foot-5 post player like Oxford Hills’ Colton Carson in the semifinals, then shift back to the perimeter to frustrate Windham guard Mike Gilman in the final.
“What he’s done the last three games has been incredible. He’s guarded a different type of player every time,” Adams said.
Khalid knows his rare combination of length and athleticism means he will often draw such contrasting assignments. He welcomes the challenge because he’s confident his teammates will have his back.
“Our coaches say that defense wins games. Our defense helps us get points on offense,” Khalid said. “I’m just trying to do my job. Defense is always a team thing. Our coach always tells me to just do my job and trust my teammates.”
Morin, the quintessential “glue guy,” may be the most trusted by his coach and teammates. Steady and unselfish, he is cut from the same mold of other great but often overshadowed point guards Adams has coached such as Kyle Philbrook and Tim Mains, now EL’s JV coach.
Defensively, Morin usually has to defend the opponents’ best play-making guard. As he showed while guarding Windham’s Nick Curtis last Friday, Morin makes them earn whatever points they get. He rarely makes the same mistake twice, which is just as important at the other end of the floor because EL’s offense usually starts with the ball in his hands.
“He has the best assist-to-turnover ration of anybody I’ve ever coached,” Adams said. “He’s going to take care of the ball for us.”
Ranked fourth in AA North with 4.6 assists per game, Morin will look for, and more often than not, knock down his own shot in the flow of the offense. But he has enjoyed having Khalid’s presence and Shea’s expanded offensive game to play off of when he’s running the point.
“It’s been real nice this year having more guys that I can look to to score after I create,” he said.
Now all three are one win away from following through on a promise Shea said he made to Adams when he was a sophomore.
“I promised Coach Adams — because he reminds us every year, you know, 1946 is the last time we won it — I told him, ‘Coach, I’m changing that (championship) banner (in EL’s gym),” Shea said.
Few know better than Adams how much would change if the Eddies win on Friday. But he thinks his senior starters have already established their legacy.
“Regardless of if we win or lose, I hope they’re remembered as great teammates,” Adams said. “They’ve gotten better as the year has gone along. They’ve carried themselves on the floor as winners, and they’re good kids.”
Edward Little High School basketball players are a blur as they run through a drill during Wednesday’s practice at the school’s gym under the watchful eye of their head coach, Mike Adams, middle, as they prepare for Friday night’s state championship game in Portland against Scarborough. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)