University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball assistant coach Jim Bessey conducts practice in 2017. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Any time Jim Bessey walks into a gym, a small crowd tends to gather around him.

Whether it is Dearborn Gymnasium or Mt. Blue’s hallowed court, the longtime coach is always welcomed and right at home on any basketball court.

The University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball assistant has been one of the state’s basketball emissaries for decades, and the rewards of being a a respected coach has allowed him to build a coaching tree that spans generations.

He’s not ready to give it up and turn in his whistle because he feels he can still be a contributor, and his fervor for the sport has never waned.

“I think there are two things: Passion for the game. Obviously, for someone who has done this as long as I have has to care a great deal about it — and I do,” Bessey said. “I like the connection to players. I like to see them develop, and I think intellectually, cognitively, I still have capacity left.

“You know, like, physically, obviously some of the things I used to do, I can’t do, but intellectually, the game hasn’t left me. I am keeping up with it. Yeah, I am a contact for people to talk basketball.”

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS

Not only is Bessey collaborating with new head coach, Sam Leal, but they are doing so while dealing with a pandemic.

University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball assistant coach Jim Bessey, right, talks to former UMF head coach Dick Meader during a game earlier this year. Bessey is returning to help new head coach Sam Leal next season. Tony Blasi/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I think the roles will get defined as the season progresses,” Bessey said. “Obviously, with the pandemic, all of us haven’t been together as a group, yet. We have done some things on Zoom, but we haven’t gotten down to a white board and done Xs and Os. Some of the rules have been defined, and some not as much, yet.

“Once Sam gets a handle on everything — obviously it is difficult on him, too, operating at home with no summer basketball, and everything is up in the air. He didn’t get to meet his players personally. It has been a difficult transition for him, too. But I am familiar with him. I was actually his coach for two years. I know him personally, so that part of it is very easy because I know his personality, I know his work ethic. … I think he was a great choice. I think the players will accept and be very fond of him as the season progresses.”

Bessey’s passion, compassion for players and his knowledge of basketball is why Leal wanted his former coach to remain in the fold.

“His relationship with the players is special,” Leal said. “His energy is contagious and his enthusiasm for basketball is second to none. His input on basketball ideas and the relationships he has with players will keep us in the right direction.”

Leal jokingly said that Bessey makes the new coach work harder.

“He will ask me questions and always be bringing up new ideas for myself to sort through,” Leal said. “In the end, the head coach has to make the decision, so if he throws 10 ideas at me, that’s good. But when he throws 100 ideas at me, that makes my job even harder. I love every second of that.”

Dick Meader, who recently stepped down as the UMF head coach, counted on Bessey to step in at any time and keep things moving along for the Beavers. Bessey joined the UMF staff prior to the 2012-13 season, after retiring following 34 years of coaching at Mt. Blue.

“I never met a kid who didn’t enjoy playing for him,” Meader said.

Meader wasn’t surprised to see Bessey remain on board when coaching changes were made.

“Anybody would want to help out and be involved with Sam,” Meader said. “Jim, first of all, is a hard worker, has great knowledge of the game and has a great historical perspective of the game. It was a wonderful experience working with him.”

Edward Little boys basketball coach Mike Adams, who played for Bessey at Mt. Blue, said Red Eddies standout Austin Brown asked him if Bessey also was stepping down after hearing about Meader’s retirement.

Brown, who has committed to play at UMF, said Bessey made an impression on him during the recruiting process.

“He is always energetic and it rubs off on whoever he is around,” said Brown, who added that he was sorry to see Meader step down. “He can really get the best out of his players.”

Adams speaks in reverential tones about Bessey.

“You knew going into every season, every game that you were going to be the most prepared team every single time,” Adams said. “Every attention to detail, he took care of it.”  

Adams said Bessey would wash and fold the team’s practice jerseys everyday.

“It was like a Division I program. Everything was done the way it was supposed to be done,” Adams said.

Adams said he also wasn’t that surprised that Bessey decided to stay on with Leal at the helm.

“He’s a coach,” Adams, who played for Thomas College, said. “That is what he is and will always be. The demands of a college basketball season are incredible. I couldn’t imagine the travel, being gone weekends and the late nights, traveling in vans and living in hotels.”

Adams said Bessey’s commitment to the players and the Mt. Blue boys basketball program was impressive. He added that Leal was an excellent choice to lead the Beavers next season.

“If I was Sam Leal, having someone like having coach Bessey on your bench, I mean, jeezum crow,” Adams said. “Every time I talk to coach Bessey, I learn something new. We talk four or five times a week since this chaos started.”

But Bessey knows there will be a day when he does retire.

“I hope somebody doesn’t have to lead me away,” he said. “I will know when to walk, but that is down the road and we will see what this season brings.”   

Bessey is eager to help Leal and offer input throughout the offseason.

“I will do it this season and I think it will be interesting,” Bessey said. “Obviously, Coach Meader is an experienced veteran, familiar with everything, knew all the coaches, all the ins and outs, and now Sam will be jumping in. This will be his first head coaching job, so hopefully I can help him in a different way than I helped Coach Meader.”


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