AUBURN — Central Maine Community College men’s basketball coach Dave Gonyea’s 500th career win Saturday didn’t even get a mention in the school’s own recap of the Mustangs’ 91-77 victory over Essex Community College in Concord, New Hampshire.

Gonyea didn’t get the game ball or much more than a congratulatory handshake or two.

That’s just the way Gonyea, who also holds athletic director among his numerous titles with the school, wanted it to stay.

“I don’t advertise that stuff,” he said.

“There have been a lot of bumps and bruises over the years,” Gonyea added, “but I’m really lucky to have really, really good kids. They listen. They’re respectful. They’re going to be good fathers, good husbands, good employees, all of the things sports are supposed to teach.”

The Mustangs have adopted numerous identities throughout his 26 seasons at the helm.

Nowhere has it changed more than in the school’s name recognition and recruiting. Whereas the scope of his recruiting once relied almost exclusively on Maine and New England, he now gets calls daily from interested players or their parents or coaches from around the world, thanks in large part to the Mustangs streaming all of their home games from Kirk Hall Gymnasium.

The roster now features three players from Maine, six other Americans, and nine from overseas — Australia, Belgium, Holland, Germany and New Zealand.

“The whole school’s changing, but it just seems like our basketball programs are becoming more and more popular, and I think a lot of it’s the broadcast,” Gonyea said. “These kids’ families watch from all around the world.”

Gonyea welcomes players even if they are only interested in staying for one year, telling them to “treat us almost like a prep school, except we’re $3,500 instead of $35,000.”

That broadens the pool of talent he can attract, but Gonyea isn’t thrilled with the personal cost that comes with it.

“Ten years ago, we had mostly Maine kids, so they were always around,” Gonyea said. “Now, we have these kids from away and they leave us and they’re gone. I didn’t realize how hard that was going to be. I miss the kids from last year a lot. Yeah, the new ones come in and they’re nice kids and they fill the void and all that, but you know how easily you get attached to kids.”

A busy early-season schedule usually accelerates the bonding among players and coaches. The Mustangs start November with 11 games in 16 days.

The grueling stretch serves as a bit of crash course for both the first-year players and for Gonyea.

“This is where you sort it out, where you figure out who can do what,” Gonyea said. “We’ve got a couple of big rivalry games in December. To me, it’s all a preview for the second semester. Second semester is where the action is. That’s when the tournament is. That’s when every team’s established what you have and don’t have.”

This year, Gonyea’s list of haves includes Khalid Ibn, a 6-foot-3 guard who helped lead Edward Little to the Class A state championship in 2018 (when he was known as Ibn Khalid. He has returned to his original name, which immigration flipped when he came emigrated to the United States).

Having lived in Auburn, Ibn knew more about CMCC than most of his fellow first-year teammates, but through the first five games of the season (the Mustangs are 4-1) even he has been surprised by the level of play in the Yankee Small College Conference.

“This is definitely not what I expected,” Ibn said. “I thought the competition wasn’t going to be as it is. It’s definitely competitive. The (YSCC) is competitive. I definitely found that out Sunday against Vermont (Tech, a 76-72 loss).”

Gonyea was still kicking himself for that loss the next day because he deviated from his usual rotation, which involves 15 or 16 players getting time on the court.

“I muffed it up (Sunday), but I try to play as many players as we can,” Gonyea said. “The starters were all fatigued (Sunday) and I got stubborn and didn’t want to take them out.”

Some players stubbornly refuse to accept Gonyea’s play-em-all philosophy, which he thinks is vital to creating competition for playing time in the non-stop up-tempo, frequently freewheeling style of basketball he coaches.

Playing last year at Hyde School in Bath for legendary coach Tom Bragg helped prepare Ibn for Gonyea’s philosophy.

“Hyde got me ready for here,” Ibn said. “It’s been a bit of an adjustment. Walking into Hyde from Edward Little was different because I had to earn my minutes there. I couldn’t just be the player I was in high school. That kind of transferred to here. I couldn’t have come straight out of high school to here.”

Ibn has come off the bench in all five games and averaged six points per game.

“I don’t think he’s the same player today that he was in high school,” Gonyea said. “He’s quicker, he’s smarter, he’s everything better.”

Even the players who buy in to Gonyea’s system tend to leave after a year. Having players such as third-year point guard Corey David is a luxury.

David, a 6-foot captain from Ocala, Florida, said it took him about a year to feel comfortable in the system.

“It’s going to take them a little bit because guys come from places where they were playing the whole game. Some guys take it well, some don’t take it well.”

“We’ve got a bunch of new guys that I’ve got to walk with a little bit, but they’re starting to get it,” David said. “They want to learn. The majority of them are getting it. They just want to buy into the system and earn their stripes.”

It will take more than talent, size or athleticism for the Mustangs to earn their stripes this year. In over a quarter of a century at CMCC that has included nine league championships and one national USCAA title (in 2002), Gonyea has learned the key to success is intangible.

“I think really the deciding factor is can you just outwork them, and we’ve been lucky over the years. We’ve outworked a lot of teams,” he said. “The secret is getting kids to buy into that.”

If only the players could get Gonyea to buy in on reaching the 500-win milestone.

“He should be proud,” David said. “He’s built the program from the ground up. I’d celebrate a little more if it was me.”


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