John Martin demonstrates his shooting skills on the basketball court at Gray-New Gloucester where he has been starting for the team for three years. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)
GRAY — Gray-New Gloucester missed the Class B South tournament when John Martin was a starting freshman guard.
Over each of the following two seasons, the Patriots advanced one round further in the tournament, and Martin played a bigger role each year in the team’s success. Last year, he was a Western Maine Conference all-star and led Gray-NG to the B South semifinals.
For the Patriots to have a chance of reaching their goal of winning their first state title since 1975 (when they were in Class C), they will have to double their efforts, in essence, and win two more games at tournament time just to get into the state championship game.
It’s a challenge Martin and the Patriots are eager to take on, but are also not about to let consume them.
“We have our long-term goals,” Martin said, “but we always think, ‘Next team.'”
The next team for the Patriots is Lake Region, which they host Friday night in the season opener. But there is an undeniable anticipation for Gray-New Gloucester boys’ basketball that has usually been reserved for the more decorated girls’ team.
“We’re excited,” Gray-New Gloucester coach Ryan Deschenes said. “I mean, coming off of a semifinal berth last year, with good experience back, we know we should be in the mix. But there are so many good teams in our class. It’s going to be wide open again.”
The last thing those good teams will want to do is leave Martin wide open anywhere on a basketball court. He led the Patriots in scoring and finished fifth in the WMC overall while averaging 15.4 points per game last year. He also ranked among the league leaders in 3-pointers made with 45.
Martin will be the focal point of every defense the Patriots face this season. But the 6-foot-2 senior point guard should have plenty of help in his pursuit of a title.
“Having six seniors helps with that, for sure,” Deschenes said.
Martin brushes off the pressure of a now-or-never senior year like he brushes off most who try to guard him.
“We just try to not think about that and think about what we can do to make each other better,” Martin said.
One of the things Martin thinks he can do to make his team better is maximize his teammates’ opportunity to score.
“This year, our team has a lot of talent,” he said. “I feel like if I have a better thought process with my decision-making, my teammates will get more points and it will contribute to more team wins.”
“We hope to have a bit better balance this year,” Deschenes said. “That’s what we were kind of missing last year, that second or third double-digit scorer.”
Martin acknowledged he has to to find a balance between getting his teammates involved and finding his own offense. His coach knows it’s a difficult balance to strike, especially for someone playing his position.
“It’s tough when you’re a point guard. You have a lot of responsibility,” Deschenes said.
“He’s a very pure shooter. He can shoot it off the catch as well as anyone,” Deschenes said. “Unfortunately, he’s not going to have as many chances to catch and shoot, unless we run stuff for him. But this year we’ve got guys who can make plays for him.”
The Patriots have a good balance of inside and outside players, including fellow seniors Hunter Colby, Ryan Lachance and Zackary Pomerleau, to balance the floor and help make Martin’s decisions easier.
“The biggest thing that helps is my teammates. We hold each other accountable and they help me,” Martin said.
“Last year, we struggled a little bit with our ball movement,” Martin said. “Right now, we feel more comfortable getting it in or out and moving it around. We have a lot more options.”
Martin’s own game became more multi-faceted over the offseason as he worked hard on improving as a defender.
Playing and practicing with some of the top talent in the state, such as Edward Little’s Wol Maiwen, Bangor’s Matt Fleming and Mountain Valley’s Keegan Davis, for the Maine Renegades AAU team, he put together the physical tools that serve him so well at the offensive end and became a more complete player.
“With his length, his quickness and his strength at his position, he’s always had the ability to be a lockdown defender,” Deshenes said, “and now he’s showing it.”
Whatever opponents show Martin and the Patriots this season, they will be ready for it, according to Martin, who is weighing a number of options to play Division III basketball next year.
“We’ve been playing against tough competition ever since I was a freshman,” he said. “I think it’s made us physically and mentally prepared.”
Gray-New Gloucester’s John Martin leaps up to take a shot during last season’s Class B South basketball tournament at the Portland Expo. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)Gray-New Gloucester’s John Martin launches a shot from the perimiter as Lake Region’s Tristen Chaine defends during a game last season. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)