Happy to see Troy Barnies of Edward Little High School tuck away the Maine Mr. Basketball trophy on three different fronts.

1. He’s a super, super kid. Nobody in the state worked harder than Barnies over the last four years. He is a can’t-miss Division I talent and a team player to a fault, which is a rarer combination than an EL sports fan with reasonable expectations. Not that you could go wrong with finalists Andy Shorey of Mountain Valley or Sean McNally of Gardiner as your child, co-captain or classmate, either.

2. His victory instills a shred of hope that boys’ basketball accomplishments south of Waterville and north of Gray aren’t the equivalent of a tree falling in a forest in Greenland, after all.

3. It atones somewhat for the last great EL big man, Bryan Lambert, getting hosed out of so much as a Mr. Basketball honorable mention in 2000.

Not far from the mountaintop of Friday night’s reveal, however, there hovered a cloud of sadness.

“Now I have to prove myself to everyone in the dunk contest and the all-star game,” Barnies said to Randy Whitehouse as the busboys whisked away the banquet leftovers. “I feel like if I don’t, people won’t think I’m worthy.”

Given the prevailing winds in these parts, that is a maddeningly legitimate fear. Once it became apparent to anyone with a modicum of hoop knowledge that Barnies was a Division I college prospect, the poor young man experienced the joy of having his every hardwood move dissected like one of Kobe Bryant’s flying forearms.

Not exactly the presumed knowledge of a slicked-back talking head in an ESPN studio, this hyper-analysis typically emanated from an anonymous knucklehead calling himself “yourskoolsux” or “iamahoopgod” and spending six hours at a time on an internet discussion board.

If he’s seeking empathy, Barnies could call Andy Bedard, T.J. Caouette, Nik Caner-Medley, Cindy Blodgett or any number of kids from Valley High of Bingham before him. Many of those local legends preceded the 24-hour web cycle. Nevertheless, in his or her time, each was the victim of pathetic player-hating, invariably dished out by a benchwarmer in the game of life.

Usually the naysayer is consumed by either jealousy or the inferiority complex inherent in too many Mainers. Rather than seek a prescription for Prozac or Viagra to repair the real problem, he self-medicates by rooting for the best in our community to fall flat upon their faces.

While rational people root for the opportunity to say, “I knew him when,” this grammatically challenged minority gets its jollies from typing, “I told you so.”

Barnies has bounced a basketball ’round the calendar since junior high while trying to drown out the whispers of those waiting to tell us so. Even a blue-chipper is without honor in his own neighborhood.

A month ago, those whispers escalated to whines and what-fors when Hampden crushed previously unbeaten EL’s dream of a Class A state championship. Oh, the stupidity I heard floating around the Augusta Civic Center press table that week, condemnation of everything from Barnies’ college credentials to Mike Adams’ coaching abilities.

Ever heard of the better team winning? To anybody who objectively watched EL this season, that team going 19-0 in the KVAC was the most deceptive February sports statistic since USA 4, CCCP 3.

The shut-in scouts criticized the Red Eddies for flaunting t-shirts celebrating their undefeated regular season. Hey, maybe the players are smarter than you for recognizing what an accomplishment that was. Maybe Barnies’ back was tired from carrying a team that would have been 9-9 without him.

Troy Barnies improved himself from a gangly eighth-grader who couldn’t dribble and chew gum at the same time to the best senior boys’ basketball player in the state. He consistently made his teammates better. He will blossom into a star at the University of Maine.

Shame on any of us who made him believe that isn’t enough.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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