BRIDGTON — The basketball came back to him and this time Indiana Faithfull kept it in his hands. He pivoted, eyes lining up the basket, and brought his arms up to release the ball.
The shot, from deep in the corner, was good. A few cheers and a shout from the crowd followed.
Faithfull fans had trekked to this outpost of prep school basketball Saturday for the consolation game of Bridgton Academy’s Winter Classic four-team tournament.
They numbered about 20 and accounted for maybe one-third of all the fans sitting on three rows of bleachers watching St. Thomas More School beat Maine Central Institute. If Faithfull had a moment, he could have spotted familiar faces easily. He had very few of those free moments.
Faithfull always brought an uncommon intensity to his game. “You can’t take a play off. It’s more about consistency here,” he said, speaking from the St. Thomas More School campus Monday night. “You’ve got to bring your best game every play, every game.”
At Cheverus High last winter, he couldn’t play every game. The question of whether a school semester in his native Australia counted toward his eligibility to play basketball in Maine became a contentious issue. He was forced off the basketball court.
Until a judge ruled that Cheverus must let him play while the Maine Principals’ Association ruling was argued in court. In the meantime, some fans demonized Faithfull, turning him into a symbol, forgetting he was all too human. Faithfull turned a deaf ear to the invective and concentrated on basketball. The game remains his haven.
The 2010 state championship trophy still has a home at Cheverus. The argument over whether Faithfull was eligible or not, and whether Cheverus forfeits the title or not, is still in the judicial system.
One year after the shouting, Faithfull plays basketball in front of dozens rather than the hundreds or thousands that watched Cheverus win the state title. At St. Thomas More, he’s setting up teammates like Andre Drummond, the 6-foot-11 big man who’s touted as one of the best schoolboys in the country.
College scouts and prep basketball junkies keep tabs on Faithfull, but St. Thomas More and its 17-3 record warrant not much more than a few sentences in the Norwich Bulletin or the New London Day, the school’s local newspapers in their corner of Connecticut.
Jere Quinn, a math teacher and the coach for more than 30 years, has a loud bark that can rip the hide off his players. But then, prep school coaches typically have their players for seven months. The drill instructor approach works best.
“I don’t mind because everything he says is correct,” said Faithfull. “Remember, (Cheverus Coach Bob Brown) is no softie either.”
One year later, Faithfull looks a little different. Still slender, there’s now muscle definition to his upper arms. “You think so? I’ve been doing a lot of lifting.”
Cheverus Principal John Mullen was in the crowd Saturday with his daughter. He thought Faithfull looked more assertive. “To the core he’s a genuinely nice person. But there’s a lot of fire in him. I could see players around him respond to him by their body language.”
St. Thomas Moore lost the night before to Bridgton Academy. The team seemed a bit out of sync. The setting might have had something to do with that.
“It was an interesting gym, like a big barn. The fans are all looking down on you. It was a pretty tough place to play.”
Older basketball fans can remember the Chamber of Horrors gym at St. Joseph’s College.
Memorial Gym at Bridgton had a more rustic feel with it’s wood walls and wood-ribbed cathedral ceiling. But fans were close enough, it seemed, to whisper to players.
After beating MCI 63-49, Faithfull had no time to talk. The coach has a son playing for Bentley and if everyone hustled, he could get down to Waltham, Mass., in time for the game.
“Indiana is my co-pilot on this trip,” said Quinn, smiling. Right, coach. Count on the kid from Australia to know how to get in and out of the outback of Maine.
“He a great kid. Here’s his number. Please call him. Call him anytime.”
Faithfull got home to Australia for Christmas for the first time in a few years. Castlecrag was spared the flooding that swept through large parts of the country. His mother’s hometown was hit. “It was terrible, you know?”
He doesn’t know where his future will take him. He’d rather not think out loud. When the season is over, he says, he and Quinn will sort through his options. He’ll decide where he’ll fit best.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]