AUBURN — Leadership on and off the basketball court can take many forms.
There is the guy who scores 25 points per game and the girl who throws herself to the floor in pursuit of every loose ball. Not hard to pick them out.
Let's not forget the player who raises his voice in every huddle, is constantly exhorting teammates, and yes, maybe even throws out a word or two that he hopes his mom doesn't overhear.
The tough-as-ever Edward Little boys' basketball team has two legitimate leaders in its ranks this season. With few exceptions, however, none of the previous criteria apply to them.
Maybe it's no coincidence that Quin Leary and Sean Ford's first names begin with the same letters as quiet and steady. There isn't any fluff with the EL seniors, but their day-in, day-out, year-round consistency is a big reason the Red Eddies are 16-2 and seeded No. 2 as they start another run in the Eastern Class A tournament.
EL seeks its sixth straight berth in the regional semifinals when it faces No. 7 Messalonskee at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Augusta Civic Center.
"We're pretty used to it," Leary said. "We know what it takes to win, especially at Augusta. We have a lot of experience there, collectively."
Leary was the Red Eddies' sixth man as a ninth-grader, when brother Bo, cousin Jimbo Philbrook and Yusuf Iman led EL to its second straight Eastern Class A championship. Leary's been on the winning side six times in his career at the civic center.
Ford, a second-year starter, fueled a frantic second-half comeback against Lewiston in the quarterfinals last February. He has continued to make good on that promise as a senior, sharing the scoring load as the more ballyhooed Leary has drawn a lion's share of the attention from opposing defenses.
"Last year we didn't need as much of a scorer," Ford said. "I was kind of a role guy."
Role guys get their turn in coach Mike Adams' system. So do players with strong leadership qualities.
"Everybody's a different leader with what they do," Adams said. "Troy (Barnies, now playing professionally in Europe) was more outspoken. Yusuf was outspoken," Adams said. "Bo was really quiet. Quin is relatively quiet and Sean is, as well. It's just the expectations. They know what's expected of them and they expect the same thing from the underclassmen and the kids kind of follow that lead."
Bo Leary's sensational senior season — he was a 2011 Mr. Basketball finalist — cast a lengthy shadow for the last in line of his prominent basketball family.
Quin, a 6-foot-3 forward with skills inside the paint and out, can take it as a compliment that KVAC rivals have chosen to defend him in the same, hyper-cautious manner.
"I expect it now," Leary said. "Last year I kind of expected it too. I'm kind of used to getting double-teamed and triple-teamed. I've been working on just kicking it out, because I know Nate (Alexander) and Sean are going to hit shots."
When the team gathered this week to watch the tape of EL's 55-53 January win over Messalonskee, Adams was aghast to rediscover that the Eagles actually had four defenders converging on Leary when he caught the ball on at least one possession.
"It's not like Troy, where he can just go over people (with his size)," Adams said. "That's not really fair to him. I think he's really done a good job accepting that and saying, 'Hey, Sean has stepped up offensively and Lew (Jensen) has stepped up offensively.' That's something you can't always say about your best players is that they can take a back seat offensively sometimes and let somebody else do that. That says a lot about his character."
Unselfishness and winning are an equal tradition for the Red Eddies.
Leary and Ford were in sixth grade when led EL celebrated a perfect regular season and the second in what is now a run of eight consecutive trips to the regional tournament.
"It's nice to have all the little kids looking up to us and yelling for us," Ford said. "I remember coming here as a little kid and watching an 18-0 season. Troy Barnies coming down and dunking the ball. That was unbelievable to me."
An upset loss in the quarterfinals that year was the last time EL went to the civic center without winning at least one game.
Pressure? Sure. Leary would be lying if he said there wasn't.
"I'm pretty anxious," he said. "Four years going here every year, we're expected to do pretty well."
Losing in the last minute to Bangor in the Eastern final as sophomores and to Mt. Blue in a semifinal thriller one year ago reminded them of how the other half lives.
"It's motivating, I think," Ford said. "We want to have a good finish compared to what we've done the last few years. We want to have a long tournament run. Definitely, considering we've had chances to win the gold ball and we haven't done it. We're dying to win one."
Spoken like a true leader.