Troy Barnies with Edward Little basketball players past and present at the basketball court newly renamed after Barnies, an Edward Little graduate, at Union Street Park, also known as The Gully, in Auburn earlier this month. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The pinned tweet at the top of Troy Barnies’ Twitter feed is three words (11 characters): “I cried today…” followed by three emojis — a crying face, two raised hands and a basketball.

Troy Barnies and his mom, Lorie, at the basketball court newly renamed after him at Union Street Park, also known as The Gully, in Auburn earlier this month. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Accompanying the words and emojis are two photos. Present in both is a newly-erected sign at Auburn’s Union Street Park, aka “The Gully,” commemorating one of the basketball courts where a young Barnies, now 32, fell in love with basketball, as Troy Barnies Court.

Also present in one of the photos is a beaming Barnies with his right arm around his mother, Lorie, posing next to the sign at the Aug. 1 dedication ceremony.

In perpetuity, four words on the sign will explain to anyone who doesn’t already know who Troy Barnies is, and why his home city named a popular public space after him:

Athlete, Mentor, Leader, Friend.

The former University of Maine star, 2007 Edward Little High School graduate and Mr. Maine Basketball award winner left for Lithuania just a couple of days after the dedication. A little more than two weeks later, after the required quarantining, he was sprinting up and down the basketball court inside Cido Arena preparing for his ninth professional season overseas, and his first with Lietkabelis and the Lithuania Basketball League.

Back in Auburn (and seven hours behind on the clock), John Shea, about to enter his junior year at Edward Little, began another day of his own basketball work, repeating drills taught to him by Barnies and grinding through workouts he had done with him throughout the summer.

Shea, the starting center and leading scorer on Edward Little’s reigning Class AA state championship basketball team, continues the grueling itinerary even with his mentor half a world away. One of the things that gets him through on the hottest days is knowing that he’ll be able to talk about his day with Barnies, usually over an intercontinental video game.

“We talk pretty much every day,” Shea said.

“He’s just an easy guy to get along with,” Shea added. “Troy definitely doesn’t care where you came from. He treats everyone the same.”

Barnies said his relationship with Shea has grown to “where he’s like my little brother.”

“We have a close bond,” Barnies said. “John has a really big heart and he’s got so much potential. Whatever help I give him is to get him in the mindset of what it takes to get to the next level.”

‘IT KEEPS ME MOTIVATED’

Like many current, past and future Red Eddies, Shea first met Barnies at Red Eddies Camp, an annual basketball camp for Auburn youth. Others from throughout the state have met him as a counselor and guest at the venerable Hoop Camp in Casco. Some of the state’s top players met him this summer as Barnies dipped his toes into coaching with the AAU Maine Demons, as well as Edward Little’s current team.

“It was great playing for him,” said Wyatt Hathaway, a Leavitt senior who played for Barnies with the Demons. “He brings just a whole other competitive and intensity level. In practice, everything was competitive, no matter what we were doing.”

Barnies even takes requests occasionally, working with five to 10 kids individually each summer.

“I say ‘yes’ to almost every single one,” he said, noting that while he decides on a case-by-case basis whether to charge for the lessons, he does always ask that his expenses are covered.

“Number one, I love to do it,” Barnies said. “I look at my job as being very different from everyone else’s. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job. Especially during the summer. I’m working out probably four hours a day, max. And what I don’t want to do with the rest of my time is just sit around doing nothing.”

What he does want to do is give back to the game, and continue to do so as a college or professional coach when his playing career ends.

“Basketball has been so good to me and I’ve learned so much. I love the game so much, and I feel like my basketball IQ is pretty high and I want to pass it on,” he said. “And, selfishly, it helps me as well. It keeps me motivated. And I feel like I owe everything to the game, where it’s brought me. I never would have met my wife without basketball.”

Over the course of his career, Barnies has played and lived in Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Turkey and Russia. He met his wife, Sandra Steffensen, while playing in Hungary, where she was attending medical school. They married in Maine in July 2019. She returned to her hometown in Norway to continue her studies while Barnies was playing in Latvia, and due to the coronavirus and travel restrictions, they haven’t seen each other since last December, but the couple has plans to reunite soon.

FEELING OF COMMUNITY

Shea was a baby when Barnies was a freshman at Edward Little, but he was familiar with the legend before meeting him due to Barnies’ framed Edward Little jersey that hangs in the school’s gym.

Pre-pandemic, an Edward Little athlete was just as likely to run into Barnies as one of their teammates in Edward Little’s weight room during the summer.

The man who mentored Barnies, Red Eddies varsity boys basketball coach Mike Adams, knows how fortunate he’s been to have a living, breathing example of the benefits of hard work and perseverance that he preaches, still coming around more than a dozen years later to pass the message on to his current players.

Adams doesn’t worry about whether they know who Barnies is when he introduces them.

“What you see is what you get with Troy,” Adams said. “He can relate to every kid that we have in our basketball program. He’ll make a connection, and you know he’s going to tell it like it is.”

Troy Barnies and Edward Little boys basketball coach Mike Adams stand by the sign dedicating a basketball court to Barnies at Union Street Park, also known as The Gully, in Auburn on Aug. 1. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“I saw it when he was in high school, too,” Adams added. “His ego doesn’t get in the way. He was friends with everybody.”

Adams recalled Barnies holding the EL student section in the palm of his hands when he played at Edward Little, not because he could rouse them with a thunderous dunk, but because he had a personal connection with virtually everyone in the school.

“You have cliques in high school and he had friends from all different kinds of groups. There’s this feeling of community when he’s around,” Adams said. “When you’re around him, you feel like you’re not just hanging out with a great basketball player, but a great person.”

“Jim Bessey (Adams’ coach when he played at Mt. Blue) always told me all good things happen to good people,” Adams said. “We as coaches have to celebrate that.”

Before taking Shea under his wing, Barnies worked closely with countless other Edward Little athletes, including Wol Maiwen, who led EL to the 2018 Class AA state championship.

After spending last year playing prep basketball at Williston Northampton School in Massachusetts, Maiwen is entering his freshman year at another Barnies alma mater, the University of Maine.

The pandemic kept Maiwen away from Barnies and Adams for much of the summer. Barnies has lended advice as needed but thinks the space will be good for Maiwen as he starts to gain his foothold in Orono.

“He knows I’m there when he needs me,” he said.


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