Edward Little boys basketball coach Mike Adams watches a drill during the first practice of the season in the Edward Little gym Monday night. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Like high school boys and girls basketball teams around the state, Edward Little opened its door to tryouts Monday for the first day of winter sports practice.

Boys basketball coach Mike Adams was delighted that numbers have swelled for his program to the point where tryouts had to be divided into two sessions spanning three hours into Monday night so that he and his coaching staff could get a good look at all of the talent available for Edward Little’s varsity, JV and freshman teams.

It was also something of a tryout for Adams, who is entering his 19th season with the Red Eddies. The 47-year-old is less than three months removed from undergoing open heart surgery at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“I know I’ll be tired at the end of the day, just because your body’s still not ready for it in some ways. But like anything, the only way you get back is by coming in and doing it. I’ve just got to listen to my body,” he said prior to opening up his first session with the freshmen and sophomores. “Thankfully, we’ve got a great coaching staff and we have a lot of seniors back who know what I’ve been through.”

Adams had his aortic valve and part of his aorta replaced on Aug. 29, the first day of school, to correct a bicuspid aortic valve, a congenital heart defect that he first learned of six years ago when his son received the same diagnosis.

Doctors monitored Adams’ heart, including check-ups every six months, and told him last April that he would need surgery. At his behest, they agreed to schedule it after summer basketball, which included a team trip to basketball camp at Marshall University.

“We had a great summer,” he said. “I love summer basketball. It’s my favorite thing in the world.”

Throughout his tenure at Edward Little, the tall and trim Adams could often be found working out with his players in the school’s weight room. He continued to work out even when he knew surgery was imminent, but wasn’t aware of how much his condition was contributing to his fatigue.

Edward Little boys basketball coach Mike Adams watches a drill during the first practice of the season in the Edward Little gym Monday night. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“There was a day about a year ago where Wol (Maiwen, then a senior basketball star at EL) and I were lifting and I’m like, ‘I’m out of shape, Wol. We’re just benching and I’m out of breath,” Adams said.

“I was more tired than I thought, but I just thought it was being tired from being active,” he said. “After I had the surgery, I found I was way more tired than I thought.”

Adams was thankful the surgery wasn’t brought on by a medical emergency, especially after doctors discovered an aortic aneurysm that required them to replace a larger section of his aorta than they originally planned.

He spent four days in recovery at Maine Medical Center, then convalesced at home while going to cardiac rehabilitation three times a week. Players and coaches started visiting him the day after the operation.

“It was sad seeing him like that, but it was also good to support him,” senior guard Storm Jipson said. “He’s been there a lot for us so it was good to be there for him.”

A business technology teacher at the high school, Adams inevitably got the itch to get back into the classroom but followed doctors’ orders to spend six weeks away in recovery. He returned to teaching full-time about a month ago, but something was still missing until the gym opened up on Monday.

“It’s therapeutic — being in the gym, being around a bunch of kids, some of them I’ve been around since they were in kindergarten,” he said.

“It’s great to see him,” senior guard Austin Brown said. “We missed him.”

The Red Eddies graduated Maiwen, the Class AA North player of the year who was their top scorer and rebounder and backbone of their defense. But Adams is excited about the versatility of his roster and the different lineups he can put on the court this season.

“There’s no way you can replace Wol. But we have a lot of really different pieces this year, so we can be really different with how we play,” he said. “We can be really big. We can be really quick and athletic. The strength of this group is how well they play together.”

Adams led EL to the Class AA state championship in 2018 and to the regional final each of the past three years. Maiwen was a force all three years, particularly on the defensive end, but the Red Eddies aren’t ready to leave their perch as one of the top teams in the state.

“I think we’ve got some young talent that’s ready to step up, some hungry kids on this team, and they’re ready to go,” Brown said.

“We’ve been playing together a long time,” Jipson said, “so even losing Wol, I think we still have all of the chemistry that we had last year, if not even more.”

Edward Little boys basketball coach Mike Adams watches a drill during the first practice of the season in the Edward Little gym Monday night. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

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