When it comes to the most basic basketball skill, John Shea seems to have finally got it mastered.

The Edward Little boys basketball senior has averaged 27 points per game this season, with a high of 44 that tied the modern program scoring record previously held by Troy Barnies. 

Barnies is “like a brother,” according to Shea, and so it is fitting that the two now share the record. 

The two have worked together for years as Shea has grown, physically and mentally, on the basketball court. This past summer, Barnies wanted to change Shea’s mentality. 

Edward Little’s John Shea goes up for the basket defended by Oxford Hills’ Lincoln Merrill during a game in Paris at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School earlier this season. Brewster Burns photo

“I tell him he’s soft so he can get in his mind that he can turn it around,” said Barnies, who is now playing professional basketball in Ukraine for MBC Mykolaiv. “John needs that because he takes things personally, which is important as a basketball player and it’s important to be truthful to him. I coached him, trained him and worked out with him. I’ve known him forever. I called him soft only (for him) realize that if I am saying that, there’s some situation where he’s doing something wrong. I wanted him, every time on the court, he would be an (expletive) that didn’t care (what the other team thought) and get after it every game.”

It seemed to work well, and Shea showed that in the first game of the regular season against Oxford Hills on the road. The 6-foot-6 Shea was matched up against 6-10 Vikings center Colby Dillingham, who also worked out with Shea and Barnies some this summer. Shea scored 30 and was able to grab 14 rebounds, even with the size disadvantage. 

“I worked with Troy a few times this summer when he was here. Sometimes I would work out with him when he was getting his workouts in,” Shea said. “He’s definitely made me, I wouldn’t say I was soft, but he got the toughness part and the mental part for me. He’s been like a big brother to me and we still talk through facetime once or twice a week. Just to have that guidance through a guy that’s been through it all helps a lot.”

Shea followed up his 30-point performance with the 44-point outburst against Hampden, then a 36-point showing on the road at Lewiston to help Edward Little to a 3-0 start. After the Lewiston game, Edward Little guard Eli St. Laurent called Shea “a force.” 

“Everybody kind of collapses and as you can see, I had open shots, Pat (Anthoine) had open shots,” St. Laurent said. 

Sharing the ball and finding the best shot during a possession has been an aspect of Shea’s game that has been improved this season as well. It comes down to chemistry for Shea. He understands that if teams focus on him, then someone else will be open. 

“Against (zone defenses), people are going to find that we have shooters,” Shea said. “I’m going to find the shooters. Against Windham, we had four or five guys with 10 or more points and in games like that it’s tough to lose. People are going to double- or triple-team me, then I have teammates that can make plays.”

Shea’s passing ability and decision making wasn’t always as sharp, as head coach Mike Adams described a younger Shea as a “black hole.”

“I think one of John’s biggest improvements has been his ability to pass out of the post,” Adams said. “I think in the past couple years, he would make four or five moves, have three guys around him, but now he makes his teammates better. He finds the open guy and gets the ball to where it needs to be.”

Against Windham, in a 63-31 victory, Shea had just 12 points, as Anthoine led Edward Little with 13. 

Edward Little’s Eli St. Laurent lobs a pass over the arms of Lewiston’s Yusuf Dakane to teammate John Shea (10) during a Dec. 18 game in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Over the summer, the Red Eddies practiced Monday-Thursday for eight weeks, went to a basketball camp and played a bunch of games. The chemistry was built over the summer months and is proving a positive this season. 

“They spend a lot of time together and like any family — we like to think of ourselves as a family — there are always disagreements and little arguments you get in because you care about each other,” Adams said. “They genuinely like each other and it’s fun. They’re a fun team to coach. With a player like John, sometimes people might get jealous and say, ‘I should be getting this, why’s he getting this?’ and I think that shows a lot about the character of everybody on the team to buy into getting him the ball and watching someone take close to 30 shots a game. He’s very effective but they know it’s for the betterment of the team and it’s really neat to see.”

Shea’s toughness has increased this season, and his emotions have been kept in check better also. Against Bangor, though, emotions got high and Shea got into foul trouble. It’s something Shea and Adams are working on. 

“That’s the good and the bad of John, sometimes,” Adams said. “We’ve talked about keeping his emotions in check and he’s done that. We’ve said to him a lot that you’re not just the leader of our team but you’re our emotional leader. When you start to lose it, we all start to lose it. 

“(Assistant) coach C.J. Jipson uses a line, ‘Play with emotion, not be emotional.’ We try to remind our guys that it’s easier said than done. It is an emotional game, especially when you’ve invested as much as we all have, then you should have feelings about it. We want to make sure none of us let that happen and I think we did against Bangor, we let it influence our play. It was a great time to learn that, to be in an adverse situation, to know that it’s a weakness for us right now. We are putting ourselves in practice in situations where you have to face adversity.”

Shea knows he needs to be mentally tough. 

“For me, the biggest part about it is, and I’ve been working on it in the past, is just realizing that once the ref blows the whistle, then that’s the call,” Shea said. “They’re not going to take back the call, so you just need to keep playing. That’s been the biggest thing for me, talking to coach about it, talking to Troy about it, it’s different people and different perspectives.”

Edward Little is 4-1 heading into the holiday break and while Shea has scored just 13 and 12 in the last two games, he’s happy with his play. His passing has improved and his scoring has improved as a result of his body positioning. 

“Against guys like Colby or (South Portland’s) J.P. (Estrella), guys that are bigger, I basically use my body,” Shea said. “I get into them and into position before they get where they want to be, and the rest will take care of itself. I’m not going to block their shot, so I need to get where I need to be. It’s been a gradual thing and getting tips here and there from coaches. I always have someone that I can talk to.”

Shea said he talks to Barnies once or twice a week and is always listening to Adams, even if his head coach frustrates him with things he doesn’t want to necessarily hear.

“What hasn’t Adams helped me with?” Shea asked. “He’s always on me about everything and it’s out of love and he knows how good I can be. Sometimes, I’m not going to lie, it can be annoying but at the end of the day it’s all out of love and he’s trying to make me a better player and person.”


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