After covering eight days of a high school basketball tournament — morning, noon and night, in two cities 60 miles apart — what does the writer do?
This is neither a riddle nor a rhetorical question. I’m going to tell you whether you like it or not. My aching bones and bleary eyes tell me I’ve earned that privilege.
He goes home and writes more about basketball. He dreams about basketball. He makes completely out-of-context comments about basketball to people in his life who don’t give a roll of ankle wrap about basketball.
Pretty sure I speak for my colleagues Whitehouse and Mills when I say we love this stuff, that it consumes us, and that it’s hard to completely put it away when the final horn goes off. I won’t presume to speak for hockey guy Pelletier and how he feels after reading all this malarky and having to slap it on a page night after night.
Here, in an effort to purge my brain from the bouncing and squeaking still going on inside, are a few final thoughts about the week-plus now in the rear-view mirror:
• The Poland boys are the best basketball story I’ve ever had the privilege of covering. I know you heard that from me yesterday, but it bears repeating, oh, 142 times or so.
They’re mature, composed and thoughtful, and it has translated to the court with seven straight wins and a regional that seemed to come from nowhere. The zone that C.J. Martin escalated into against Greely is something I’ve only seen from the likes of Andy Bedard and Cindy Blodgett. It was hard to maintain professional dignity while watching that comeback unfold, and I’m unashamed to admit it.
Also, on a personal level, I need to add my voice to the chorus extolling what a great guy coach Tyler Tracy is. In addition to coaching at Poland, Tracy teaches physical education in Monmouth and was sneakers-down, no-contest my son’s favorite teacher. The interest Tracy took and continues to take in the kid’s life, even though he is no longer a student there, means more to my family than he could possibly imagine. I couldn’t be happier for another human being to reach the pinnacle of a profession in which he clearly was born to serve.
• It was good to see upsets again. Teams emerging from deep in the field seemed to become the exclusive domain in recent years of Eastern Maine, where the teams are more far-flung and play in different leagues, making it hard to compare the merits of a 16-2 season and a 10-8 campaign. But the bracket busters came out in full force to Augusta and Portland this season. I think we’ll see more of it, too.
One factor that changes from year to year is the experience of teams. Some of this year’s high seeds were relatively young, perhaps making them vulnerable to a stunner inflicted by a more senior-dominated underdog. That won’t always prevail, but what might is the changing socioeconomic scene in Maine. Rural leagues such as the MVC are shrinking in student population. The talent pool is becoming more shallow. And that will make it harder for the schools that traditionally dominate around here to stay sharp and be ready for opponents from the KVAC and WMC.
• This year I volunteered for a challenge that I would have shied away from in the past, spending four days in Portland and following our local teams in the Class B tournament. The big city gets a bad rap from us country folk for many things, not the least of which is its horrible high school basketball atmosphere. I must say, however, that I was pleasantly surprised by it all.
Portland Expo is a pretty cool venue for hoops. Some of that is a credit to the Maine Red Claws and their work with the place, but with Bangor Auditorium being mercifully leveled, the Expo is the oldest edifice left standing and hosting part of a regional tourney. It has personality without being a dump. The fans are as close to the action as they would be in their gyms back home. That’s a positive thing.
Crack all the lipstick-on-a-sow jokes you wish about the “refurbished” Cumberland County Civic Center, but hey, it looks cleaner and newer. The entrances, exits and locker room hallways are fantastic compared to what they used to be. Basketball ambience? Still sorely lacking, but a lot of that can be countered by a quality student section, a good band or a great game. When Poland and Greely were slugging it out Saturday, I bet most of us forgot where we were.
• Technical fouls played a huge role in this year’s tournament, and that is bothersome. The ‘T’ is even more subjective than the dozens of touch fouls that disrupt the flow of a good game, and their timing can be downright destructive.
You can make the case that a technical was a potential deciding factor in games involving Spruce Mountain, Dirigo and Greely this past week. With his team making a late run against Poland, Spruce Mountain coach Chris Bessey was T’d up for protesting an offensive foul that disqualified star Deonte Ring from the contest. Dirigo’s Riley Robinson acquired his fifth and final foul by way of a technical for his involvement in a dead-ball skirmish as his team was rallying against Maranacook. And Greely big man Michael McDevitt was assessed a technical against Poland for hanging on the rim after a dunk. It was early in the game but played a huge role when McDevitt later fouled out.
Maybe the technicals were warranted. Perhaps they weren’t. My issue is the apparent traffic-cop enthusiasm for whistling them at a pivotal point in the biggest games of the year. Seems like it would be a great time to exercise discretion. We expect our coaches and players to maintain their composure in all situations, but what about our officials? With two minutes to go in a tight playoff game, common sense tells me that being assessed a technical should require some seriously egregious behavior.
Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.