One, inescapable since he started watching the team from the sidelines with mascot-like devotion in elementary school, is his last name. Most observers with even a passing interest in the local game recognize Yusuf Iman, a central figure in the Red Eddies’ back-to-back regional titles in 2009 and 2010.

“I remember back when people were always talking about him, and nobody talked about Yusuf,” EL coach Mike Adams said. “Imagine growing up with that. Imagine being in fifth grade and people saying, ‘He’s the one that’s going to change the banner.’ That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid. It’s not really fair.”

The other is the Eddies’ unspoken apprenticeship program. With a few notable exceptions — European professional Troy Barnies, and recent graduates Ian Mileikis and Llewellyn Jensen — your primary job is to work hard at practice and cheer loudly at games until at least your junior campaign.

Even Yusuf Iman, whose tournament buzzer-beater against Bangor made him an instant EL legend, was a role player until blossoming as a senior.

“I’ve been waiting for a while, just waiting for my turn behind a lot of great players,” Samatar Iman, a 6-foot junior guard, said. “Finally getting that first start was a great feeling. I had to make the most of it.”

Iman erupted for 31 points in that opening-night, come-from-behind win at Bangor, and most Class AA and A opponents have been at a loss to muffle his many talents as a slasher and shooter ever since.

He averages 18.3 points per game, a shade higher than his older brother chalked up as a senior while winning Sun Journal player of the year plaudits. In a region highlighted by all-everything seniors Andrew Fleming of Oxford Hills and Riley Robinson of Dirigo, Iman and junior teammate Jarod Norcross Plourde have emerged as clear heirs apparent.

Perhaps a year ahead of schedule against a beefed-up schedule that now includes Portland, Deering and Cheverus, EL recently embarked on a five-game winning streak and is 6-6 overall. That team’s shooting guard, rich with personality and physical gifts, is no overnight sensation.

“Since I was four years old, basketball has been around. It’s everything to me,” Iman said. “It’s like a comfort. It’s somewhere I can go to get my mind off stuff. It’s something I’ve loved my whole life.”

Eager to learn

That life has not always been fun and games. Iman is one of five siblings in a family of Somali immigrants, raised by a single mother.

On game days, he calls his older brothers for advice and inspiration. Hersi, the eldest, lives in Seattle. Yusuf, who went on to an outstanding career at the University of Maine at Farmington, is now in Atlanta.

”I remember in my neighborhood, (Yusuf) at the court just busting his butt, doing jump rope and stuff like that,” Iman said. “Having him as a role model just gives me that boost.”

Iman also treasures the relationship with Adams, now in his 15th year at the helm, whom he said is a father figure.

“It’s sad to say, but there are so many kids like that who’ve never had that. They do things and you want to get angry as a coach or teacher,” Adams said, “but then you say, ‘Who’s been there to say, no, you can’t do that, to this kid?’ Mom’s an immigrant, new to this country, and she’s raising a family and doing a great job and is an awesome woman, but he doesn’t have that Dad to say, ‘You can’t do this.’ That’s on us now to hold them accountable.”

Asked to compare Samatar to Yusuf, Adams said the younger brother is a more natural shooter, and perhaps a better athlete. Samatar’s style is more free-wheeling, while Yusuf was a fundamentally sound, student of the game with a voracious appetite for 1980s and 1990s NBA game film.

Keeping his cool

Both player and coach concede that the clear area for improvement in Samatar’s developing game is the mental aspect. He occasionally stumbles into foul trouble and gets demonstrative in his response.

“That’s been a blessing and a curse. I talk to my son, who’s 10, about playing with more emotion, and we have a couple of players right now we’re trying to get not to lose their cool sometimes,” Adams said. “He went from not playing at all his sophomore year to now. Now he gets that bump and that push, and they try to take him out of the game, which is smart from other coaches, because it works sometimes.”

“Keeping my composure on the court, I need to be able to control that,” Iman added. “Just be smart. I’m learning as a player that it’s a key component in the game.”

EL will have most of its important pieces in place for a while.

In addition to its one-two scoring punch, point guard Tyler Morin is a sophomore and hard-nosed defender CJ Jipson is a junior. Senior captain Austin Cox is the only starter who will graduate.

Yes, it reminds some of the group led by Yusuf Iman and James Philbrook that nearly ended the Eddies’ state championship drought, one that now sits at 75 years.

“Coming to the games, looking at him, it was like, ‘Wow, I wish I could be on that floor.’ The things he was doing were just unbelievable. I thought, ‘I have to be just like him.’ Having him as a brother is a gift,” Iman said. “I remember me and my mom at the Augusta Civic Center, going crazy when he hit that shot. That’s when it hit me that I can’t wait to play there.”

If Iman’s development continues at the pace he grew between his sophomore and junior seasons, EL may enjoy some shining moments on that court the next two Februarys.

That would make him part of another Eddies’ tradition: Winning, big and often.

“He’s an awesome kid. Like any of your players, sometimes they make you want to pull your hair out. That’s true of a son or anybody else. That’s part of growing up,” Adams said. “He’s had to grow up a lot this year. He goes from not playing to being one of the better players in our conference, our area, and seeing a lot. I’m so proud of what he’s done.”

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