Nik Caner-Medley works out with trainer Colby Emmons at Deering High School last week. Caner-Medley is preparing for his 15th season in pro basketball. “I still have gas in the tank, I’m still motivated, I still love it,” he says. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

It is sunny but brisk, on this Tuesday morning as Nik Caner-Medley goes through his workout on the practice field behind Deering High School.

It started with long jogs, then core work, focusing on the lower body. There’s agility drills, ladder work and sprints. Then there is some weight work, as Caner-Medley, the 2002 Deering graduate and Mr. Maine Basketball winner, lifts 30-pound weights.

To finish, Caner-Medley slips into one end of a resistance band and grunts and strains his way across the field as his trainer and close friend, Colby Emmons, pulls back.

At 36, it’s a little harder for the 6-foot-8 Caner-Medley to stay in shape. “It’s much harder,” he clarified.

But, said Emmons, “He gets after it every day to get better and stronger. And that’s why he’s had the success he’s had.”

Caner-Medley has had the most successful professional basketball career of any player to come out of a Maine high school. No, he’s never played in an NBA game, though he spent four years playing in the NBA Summer League.

But after graduating from Maryland, where he was a starter each of his four years, he’s played 14 years overseas, with stops in Germany, Spain, Kazakhstan, Israel, Italy, France and Monaco. Most recently he played for the Cyberdyne Ibaraki Robots of the Japan B2 League, and was averaging 18.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists when the season was stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bob Brown, the legendary retired high school and college basketball coach, said no one from Maine has matched his professional playing career.

“As far as fulfilling your dream of playing pro basketball, he did that,” said Brown, who has known Caner-Medley since he attended Brown’s camps as a child. “So much of his success is because of his attitude and his approach to being a pro athlete. You look at so many guys who burn out or end up broke very quickly. That hasn’t happened with him. He has a very professional approach.”

After playing in Japan during the winter, Nik Caner-Medley is back in Portland with his wife, Shoni, and their infant daughter. He has opted out of his second year of a contract with his Japanese team and is looking to play next season in Europe, perhaps in Spain or England. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Now back at home in Portland with his wife, Shoni, and their first child, Jade, who was born on Dec. 19 in Japan, Caner-Medley is preparing for his 15th professional season. It is a career that has provided him with a lifestyle and financial security – he estimates he’s made about $7 million – that he could only dream about.

“I am extremely grateful,” he said. “This is the culmination of a lot of small details and a lot of relationships and a lot of mentors in my life who gave me really good advice. And a ton of work. There were a ton of players better than me wherever I went.”

Caner-Medley, who was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, and moved to Maine with his family when he was 1, is opting out of his second year in Japan and looking for a new team. Spain, where he has played eight seasons, is a possibility, as is a team in England.

“I still have gas in the tank, I’m still motivated, I still love it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding the right situation.”

TALENT SEEN AT AN EARLY AGE

Caner-Medley has never been one to sit still.

“Not even as a baby,” said his mother, Janet Caner, a retired high school guidance counselor. “He was always one who had to be moving and doing something.”

And he was always pushing himself.

“He’s always been a very bright and active and curious person,” said his father, Joe Medley. “As a child, he fell into the category of having no fear about doing something new.”

From a very young age, it was apparent that Caner-Medley had basketball skills. He was athletic, tall, competitive and willing to learn. He and good friends Jamaal Caterina and Walter Phillips would practice their dunks for hours, lowering the rim or raising it as they got older and taller. Brown remembered Caner-Medley from one of his basketball camps.

“He was a pistol,” said Brown. “He could play and he played aggressively. He and I would play against two of the older kids, and I don’t think we ever lost.”

It was Brown who gave Caner-Medley the confidence boost he needed at a young age. “Coach Brown told my dad when I was in the fourth grade that I had the potential to play Division I basketball,” said Caner-Medley. “He was a huge influence on my game at a young age, and my confidence.”

Dick Whitmore, the long-time Colby College coach, remembers watching Caner-Medley in a scrimmage during his freshman year at Deering: “It was maybe his first high school contest and he was just terrific. He had to be 6-5 then, and all I know is that he was shooting the ball with rhythm and grace and accuracy at that point. I left that game saying that kid is going to be a great high school player, but also, from my perspective, we’re not going to be able to talk to him. He’s too good.”

Nik Caner-Medley signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Maryland in November 2001. He averaged 35.6 points a game as a senior at Deering High and became a starter as a freshman at Maryland. John Patriquin/Press Herald file

At Deering, he finished with 1,641 career points and averaged 35.6 points a game as a senior. He went to Maryland, where he became a starter as a freshman and the team’s leading scorer as a junior and a senior. He finished his career with 1,573 points, 659 rebounds, 222 assists, 146 steals, 116 3-pointers and 86 blocks – one of only five Terrapins all-time to surpass 1,500 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 100 steals, 100 3-pointers and 50 blocks.

Caner-Medley signed with the Detroit Pistons after going undrafted. A broken foot ended his first year in the NBA Summer League. Two years later, with a good chance to catch on with the Los Angeles Clippers, Caner-Medley broke his wrist during Summer League play. All this time, Europe beckoned. And Caner-Medley had a choice: keep knocking on the NBA’s door, where teams were offering nonguaranteed contracts, or head to Europe and get paid good money.

He chose Europe, and doesn’t regret it at all. He became a steady performer, always scoring in double figures, always among the leading rebounders. His best season may have been 2015-16, when he played in Kazakhstan for the Astana Tigers, averaging 18.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. That was the final year of a two-year, $2 million contract. Along the way, he became a leader in the way he played and the way he prepared.

Other Mainers have followed: Troy Barnies, the former Edward Little and University of Maine standout, played in Russia last year; Nick Mayo, the former Messalonskee and Eastern Kentucky star, also played in Japan this year.

Caner-Medley was about 27 when he realized he needed to make a lifestyle change if he wanted a long career. He noticed little aches and pains in his body the day after he stayed out late. So he talked to veteran players about how they lasted so long.

“One of the biggest headwinds you can have as a professional is thinking you know everything,” said Caner-Medley. “So I’ve gone with the approach of assuming I know nothing and asking a lot of questions from guys who have done it … Diet, body maintenance, off-season training, in-season sacrifices, how much sleep you get – those are the things that are going to determine if you get 15 years or if you get 10.”

Frankly, he added, “If I had continued doing what I was doing off the court from 22 to 28, I don’t think I’d still be playing professionally.”

He doesn’t think about the NBA anymore. “The NBA was my goal until I pivoted and went in another direction,” he said. “Then my goal became, ‘I want to become an elite player in Europe and get paid as an elite player.’ I achieved that goal.”

His father said there was another factor: “I’m positive Nik could have stuck with an NBA team if he had indicated he’d be happy on the back of the bench … But he was somebody who wanted to play.”

MAKING AN IMPACT IN HIS HOMETOWN

When Caner-Medley and his family left Japan as the coronavirus shut down that country, they came to Portland so his parents could see their granddaughter. Then the virus outbreak hit the U.S., and they’ve stayed in Portland but are hoping to get to Miami, where Shoni is from and the couple has another home.

But staying in Portland has its benefits. This is where Caner-Medley is making his mark beyond the basketball court.

Nik Caner-Medley is shown in 2016 during construction of an event space called Cloudport on Federal Street in Portland. Gabe Souza/Staff file photo

In early 2014, he and friend Josh Corbeau founded Medley Properties to buy and manage residential and commercial real estate. Two years later, they developed Cloudport, a co-working, meeting and event space on Federal Street in Portland.

Then there’s TRUSPORTS, an annual summer basketball camp that Caner-Medley began a decade ago. Emmons is now the executive director and oversees its operations, but Caner-Medley is still very much involved. The one-day camp (Summer Slam), and its winter counterpart (Winter Jam, in its third year), is offered for free and draws about 250 children. Caner-Medley started the camp because he wanted anyone who couldn’t afford to attend a summer basketball camp to be able to get the same high-quality instruction.

It was also meant to introduce children from different racial, cultural and economic backgrounds.

“I wanted to do something that was going to give back to the community and create an opportunity for kids to get professional coaching,” said Caner-Medley. “But it was also an opportunity to build relationships. I think it’s important for kids from all different races and economic backgrounds to build relationships. Basketball and sports is a great way to do that.”

Nik Caner-Medley remains involved in TRUSPORTS, an annual summer basketball camp that he began a decade ago as a nonprofit venture. The camp, which now is also held in the winter, offers free instruction to 250 children annually. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Caner-Medley isn’t sure if they’ll be able to hold the camp this summer because of the coronavirus. “It’s up in the air,” he said. “But we’re hoping.”

Brown isn’t surprised Caner-Medley is giving back like this. He’s seen this in him all along.

“As a coach, you try to teach life’s lessons through the medium of your sport,” said Brown. “Part of it is the team aspect, caring for your teammates. This is an outgrowth of that, caring for other people. To me, that is one of the reasons he is a great example for Maine kids. It’s not just, ‘Oh he’s playing basketball professionally.’ It’s how he’s going about it.”


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