Edward Little High School basketball players are a blur as they run through a drill during last 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)
An Edward Little High School basketball player is a blur as the team runs through a drill during last 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)
Edward Little’s Tyler Morin swings the net around after the Red Eddies beat Scarborough Friday night to capture the Class AA state championship. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
PORTLAND — Edward Little coach Mike Adams doesn’t want to hear from pundits or message board armchair critics adding up the style points of his team’s first state championship in 72 years.
“In a lot of ways it was ugly,” Adams said. “All of those ‘experts’ are going to say that was the worst basketball. I don’t care.”
Adams knows the amount of blood, sweat and tears that went into it. He and his players embraced the history of the accomplishment, bringing out the gym’s championship banner with years 1941 and 1946 embroidered on it for their celebration. But the banner only tells how long the title drought was, not the commitment required of 14 players and the coaching staff to end it.
The elusive third state title in the Red Eddies’ history took several generations but was 17 years in the making. That’s when Adams moved up from Lewiston High School assistant coach to take over an Edward Little program that had fallen on hard times quickly after the end of the Bryan Lambert era.
Adams immediately instituted a blue-collar culture of team-first unselfishness, dedication and tenacity that would characterize all Edward Little teams that followed, regardless of their talent level.
Troy Barnies was one of the earliest players to immerse himself in the culture and went on to win the state’s Mr. Basketball Award in 2007. Even before he went on to remarkable success at the University of Maine and playing professionally overseas, Barnies was the embodiment of what Adams preached. He remains one of the biggest of sources of inspiration for anyone wearing maroon and white.
Adams and Barnies quickly elevated Edward Little to eastern Maine contender status, but Adams didn’t taste tournament success until two years after the latter went to Orono. Playing in their first state championship game since 1957, the 2009 Red Eddies let a Class A title slip through their fingers late in a 54-52 loss to Thornton Academy.
Edward Little battled to within one win again the next year, but lost to Cheverus, 55-50, in a game and tournament clouded by controversy. More than two-and-a-half years later, the Maine Principals’ Association vacated Cheverus’ title after a court waived an injunction surrounding the eligibility of Stags star Indiana Faithfull. Adams made it clear he had no interest in his team being awarded the title, and it remains listed as “vacated” on the MPA’s website.
Another crushing loss to Bangor in the 2010 regional final was as close the Eddies would get to a title until last Friday night.
Adams and the Eddies had big plans coming into the season with the return of seniors Darby Shea and Tyler Morin and junior Wol Maiwen, plus the addition of Ibn Khalid from Lewiston.
After flying out to a 4-0 start, Edward Little came out flat for a pre-Christmas break showdown with Windham and lost by more than the 15 points that separated them in the final score. That started a three-game losing streak that continued with Scarborough, who the Eddies would meet again in the state title game, and Portland, the four-time regional champions, which beat them on their home floor.
“We needed a reality check,” said reserve forward Terrell Thomas, one of six seniors on the roster, “and once we got that, we came into practice and started working harder, started realizing if we wanted the gold ball, we’re going to have to start working for it.”
The Eddies righted the ship and suffered just one more loss, at eventual regional semifinal foe Oxford Hills. The nine-game winning streak they rode to history was paved by hours spent on the practice court, and by work put in by virtually anonymous players.
A big part of the unselfish element of the Adams’ Edward Little basketball identity is the role players and bench players have to work for it as much as the starters, even when the reward isn’t more playing time.
Adams doesn’t just reference Barnies when he wants to remind his role players of their importance in the team’s fortunes. The coach has a memory bank filled with, and appreciation for, players of the past who rarely showed up in the box scores.
“We needed them all, and I’m wicked proud of them,” Adams said. “It’s not easy to work like they did when you’re not getting playing time.”
“I’ve never coached a better teammate than Terrell Thomas,” he added. “I sat down with Grant Hartley (who is bound for UMaine as a preferred walk-on for football) and we talked about Cody Goddard being part of a great team and him being a star quarterback and a star baseball player, not playing much during basketball season. He was a huge part of our success. And we needed him. Grant played and made us better.”
Hartley made a cameo appearance Friday night, but Thomas watched it all from one of the best seat in the house and, in a sense, saw a team that he helped create.
“It feels like all the work we put into practice we could finally show off on the court,” Thomas said. “We beat the starters many times this year in practice, and I feel like that made them better. It made them work harder and that helped us get to the point we’re at now.”
Edward Little’s Wol Maiwen dunks the ball for two points during the first half of the Red Eddies’ Class AA State championship win over Scarborough on Friday at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)