The steady thunk-thunk-thunk of a basketball hitting hardwood echoes. The sound quickens as Keegan Hyland pivots and breaks for the basket. The South Portland High senior appears to be alone.

He’s not.

In his mind a second defender comes up to help out the first. The game clock ticks down and Hyland needs to help the Red Riots rally from a four-point deficit. Swishhhh. The opponent’s lead has been cut in half.

Hyland can wait for the cheers.

“I make up my own drills,” said Hyland of the time he spends alone at the South Portland Community Center. “I make up my own go-to moves and work on them.

“Do I make it fun? It’s kind of like my job. I want to play better and get to the next level.”

He understands why I got his cell number and called late Tuesday afternoon. He and Dom Borelli of Westbrook, Indiana Faithfull of Cheverus, Stefano Mancini of Falmouth and several others throughout the state are atypical high school players. I wanted to know what’s in the water they’ve been drinking.

Extra work on the court, says Hyland. There’s nothing extra in the water.

The high school basketball tournaments ended last weekend amid disappointment that doesn’t just come from losing.

Fans who have neither son nor daughter on a team believe the game is in trouble or certainly out of balance. They sit through the last seconds of 42-37 and 40-20 games, remembering when those used to be halftime scores.

They want to support their community’s basketball players but remember when the games were showcases of skill and entertainment. They look at their neighbors in Falmouth and see that an underdog rallied to beat defending Class B champion Camden Hills, 72-65.

Mancini scored 27 points for Falmouth. Tyler McFarland of Camden Hills scored 32 before fouling out just before overtime. Extra work, away from the structure of daily practice, maximized their physical gifts.

The 2010 Maine basketball tournament will be remembered for Faithfull, his eligibility issue and Cheverus’ march to the Class A championship.

For A.R. Gould’s inclusion in the Class D tournament and Ian Nono’s 45-point performance in the quarterfinals victory over Greenville.

For the Scarborough girls’ first Class A title and the Falmouth boys’ first championship in Class B.

It also will be remembered for another year of teams that earned their tournament appearances but couldn’t shoot straight when it mattered most.

“Kids aren’t playing basketball very much,” said Hyland. “No one really wants to work out. During the season I can get 10 kids to play (at the South Portland Community Center). Just about 10. After the season it’s even harder.”

Hyland is making an observation rather than criticizing. Everyone gets choices. Hyland chose to pick up his basketball and head to the community center 12 months out of the year. Others make the same choices. There seems to be fewer of them.

After I wrote a similar column three years ago that said the game had changed, explanations popped up like turnovers off a full-court press. Better coaches, more emphasis on defense. Living and dying with the 3-point shot. Too much time playing AAU basketball, not enough time practicing with a good AAU coach.

Too much coaching. Too much passing up the 70 percent shot for the 90 percent shot. Too much time working the controls of video games, forgetting that reality is much more unique.

I wrote of a college coach who praised her women. They would do everything she asked. That was a problem. Her players couldn’t do what she didn’t ask. They couldn’t create on their own, and the beauty of any sport is that moment when you need creativity.

Instead this coach lamented her robots. I’ve asked every coach since about their robots and was surprised how many said they had a few, or more than a few, very coachable kids who no longer thought for themselves.

The freedom to create has gone missing for some. For others it never went away. Sometimes that’s how you tell the winners from the losers.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]