Before he starred at the University of Connecticut and enjoyed a 14-year run in the NBA, Caron Butler sought to escape trouble that found him as a kid while growing up Racine, Wisconsin.

Butler wanted a fresh start, a place where he could attend school to improve his grades and play basketball.

That’s when he found Max Good, then a post graduate men’s basketball coach at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield.

Loyola Marymount head coach Max Good gestures during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill) AP

One of Butler’s first conversations with Good in the late 1990s was as blunt as a blocked shot.

“I told him, ‘We were 35-0 last year, and I looked up and down our roster and didn’t see your (expletive) name on it. We don’t need you,'” Good recalled saying to the future star.

That wasn’t all. If Butler ever thought his time at the Pittsfield school was too tough, Good let him know he could easily find somebody to take his place.

“He reminded me as soon as I got there,” said Butler, who arrived at MCI for the 1998-99 season. “He built up that urgency in me. That, look, this was the opportunity of a lifetime and I couldn’t blow it.”

Good’s assessment wasn’t just a coach serving a heaping dose of humility upon a hotshot prospective player. It was true.

During Good’s decade at MCI, from 1989 to 1999, the Huskies were a juggernaut. Under Good, MCI went 275-30, winning 90 percent of its games and five New England prep school championships. Ten of Good’s MCI players went on to the NBA, and dozens went on to play Division I basketball.

On Sunday, Good, a Gardiner native and Windham resident, will be inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star who played for nine teams in his career, will present Good at the ceremony.

“I consider (Good) family. He’s the pops I never had. I owe him,” said Butler, adding that he is returning to Maine for the first time since his playing days at MCI ended two decades ago.

MCI dropped the men’s post graduate basketball program in 2012. The school’s board of trustees cited the growing cost of running the program as the primary reason behind the decision. The team still sent players to Division I programs, but what made MCI attractive to so many players was Good and his brand of what can only be called tough love. Discipline on and off the court was paramount.

“Tough love is exactly what he represents. That’s the best thing that could happen to a player,” said Rumford native Andy Bedard, who played for Good in 1995.

In anticipation of playing Division I basketball, Bedard left Mountain Valley High School for a senior year at MCI in 1995.

“If he wasn’t being honest and straight with you, he was doing you a disservice… If you were giving 99.9 percent, he was (angry) because you weren’t giving 100 percent.”

“He was honesty. He was 100 proof,” Butler said of Good. “I think every kid has to be told the truth.”

Bedard recalled a quote from Good in a newspaper story announcing his decision to attend MCI. All Good would promise Bedard was two things: a pair of sneakers and a hard time.

“And I needed both,” Bedard said.

Good knows he was hard on his players. He had to be. Many of them had been coddled since they could dribble a basketball. Maintaining good grades while managing the time needed to be a part of a top-flight basketball program was going to be hard work. Good made sure that work was not taken lightly. Bedard said he never witnessed a player push back against Good and his methods. Good said then-MCI Headmaster Douglas Cummings sometimes questioned his tendency to get in his players’ faces.

Kings forward Caron Butler, right, drives against Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin during the second half of an Oct. 28, 2015 game in Sacramento, Calif. AP file photo

“We tried to give them what they needed, not what they wanted,” Good said. “Some of them were good at basketball but had low self-esteem academically, and that can be a combustive combination.”

For Butler, that tough love began before he departed Bangor International Airport upon landing to begin life at MCI. Good picked Butler up, but offered no help with the five heavy duffel bags that contained Butler’s life from Wisconsin. They stopped at McDonald’s where Good bought burgers for himself and Gentry, the dog, but not Butler. When they arrived on campus, Good told Butler to drop his stuff off in his room and get dressed for practice. It was 11 p.m.

“He wanted to see if I belonged,” Butler said, adding he plans to share that story when he speaks on Good’s behalf during Sunday’s induction ceremony.

Butler did just that, and his career soon took off after earning a scholarship to play for Jim Calhoun at UConn. Butler played two seasons for the Huskies, earning Big East Player of the Year honors in 2002. Later that year, the Miami Heat selected Butler 10th overall in the NBA draft. Butler, a two-time NBA All-Star,  played for nine teams in his 14-year career.

Founded in 1866, MCI was not one of the fly-by-night diploma factory schools that popped up simply as an excuse to form an elite basketball team, and Good made sure his players understood that. Study halls were mandatory. There were grade checks every two weeks. If you carried a C or better in each class, keep up the good work. If not, players were expected to meet with teachers until the grades raised.

“That’s a testament to the teachers. They wouldn’t clown around with that stuff. What good is it if you’re not pushing them?” Good said.

Sixty players arrived at MCI needing to boost their SAT score to qualify to play NCAA Division I basketball, Good said. Fifty-four succeeded, and that’s as important a number to him as the wins, the championships, or the players who went on to the NBA.

“He know what it took to be a Division I player. You were already accustomed to the intensity and training when you got there, because he put you through it at MCI,” said  Bedard, who began his college career at Boston College before transferring the University of Maine.

On the court, Good taught Bedard how to be a point guard.

“At Mountain Valley, I had the ball the whole game and shot every time I touched it,” said Bedard, who was inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame last spring. “I needed the athletic challenge, not necessarily the year academically.”

“(Bedard) came out of Rumford thinking he invented basketball. He had a confidence problem. He had too much,” Good said.

Good’s lessons stuck with Butler throughout his entire playing career.

“He prepared me for Jim Calhoun (at UConn). He prepared me for Pat Reilly. He prepared me for Stan Van Gundy,” Butler said.

Before his stint at MCI, Good coached at Eastern Kentucky, where he is the second-most influential Mainer in the history of that program behind Oakland native Nick Mayo.

Maine Central Institute prep coach Max Good talks strategy in the closing minutes of game against Milford Academy on Jan. 14, 1999. Morning Sentinel file photo by John Ewing

Mayo enjoyed a record-breaking career at Eastern Kentucky, where he set the scoring mark with 2,316 points.

Good left MCI to be an assistant to Bill Bayno at UNLV, before taking over as interim head coach when Bayno was fired during the 2000-01 season.

A year after Good left for UNLV, MCI was in the national spotlight after three of Good’s players there were suspended by the NCAA over the issue of whether AAU teams or sponsors paid part of the players’ tuition to attend MCI.

Good, in a 2000 interview, told ESPN “The youngsters who came to MCI selected us. That may sound arrogant on our part to say that. But I didn’t recruit any of these young people.”

Good coached Bryant University, taking the Bulldogs to the NCAA Division II national championship game in 2005. Good rejoined Bayno as an assistant coach at Loyola Marymount, and took over as head coach when Bayno stepped down due to health reasons in 2008. Good coached at Loyola Marymount through the 2013-14 season, after which his contract was not renewed.

Most recently, Good coached men’s basketball at Pratt Community College in Kansas. He resigned early in the 2017-18 season. It was time for he and Phyllis to come home. They live in Windham, and last year Good coached a ninth grade AAU team. With all those stops in a nomadic coach’s life, MCI holds a dear place in Good’s heart.

“I loved MCI,” Good said. “I loved my players so much. They knew that. I was positive, too. Kids don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

 


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