SOUTH PORTLAND — Ask one person in the know about South Portland basketball. Ask several. You’ll likely get the same response.
Conner MacVane does a lot of things that don’t always show up in the statistics.
We’re talking about sacrificing one’s body for a loose ball, knocking away an opponent’s dribble, boxing out for a rebound or getting in an opponent’s head.
Of course, MacVane, a senior, does the flashy things that do show up in the stats.
He’s a consistent scorer (7.0 ppg.) with a soft shooting touch, rebounder (5.8 per game) and defender.
MacVane is a big reason the Red Riots (15-3) head into the Western Class A tournament that starts Friday night at the Portland Expo as the top seed.
South Portland plays No. 9 Sanford (11-8) in the second quarterfinal at 9 p.m. No. 4 Portland (14-4) and No. 5 Westbrook (13-5) meet in the opener at 7.
Deering Coach Dan LeGage calls MacVane, “kind of a throwback.”
“He’s unsung. He gets all the 50-50 balls and is a good finisher. He’s a solid player who is very important to his team,” said LeGage.
MacVane has overcome a couple of broken feet and three sprained ankles over the last three years to have his best season.
MacVane adds the proper amount of grit and determination to make the Riots a more balanced team. South Portland has height with 6-foot-7 Jack Tolan and two 6-5 players in Ben Burkey and Jaren Muller, point guard and leading scorer Tanner Hyland and guard Calvin Carr, who can play the point or off guard. MacVane complements the whole package.
“If there’s a loose ball, Conner is going to get it,” said South Portland Coach Phil Conley.
“Conner is one tough competitor. He has the uncanny knack of adjusting his shot underneath the basket to avoid a defender’s long arms. He’s worked hard on improving his individual game.”
At 6 feet, MacVane often finds himself staring up at a sea of long arms after a rebound and putback.
Capitalizing on his football background, the more physical the game, the better MacVane likes it.
“Football is a tough sport,” said MacVane. “That’s where my aggressiveness on the court comes from. I like banging down low. The contact doesn’t really bother me. Rebounding and boxing out have always been my key things to do.
“I like playing different sports. There are different components in football and basketball, but also parts that are alike. I feel playing different sports helps you in other sports.”
MacVane had a slow start to his varsity career. He broke his left foot during a game his sophomore year. He returned to play a full junior season but in football last fall, broke his other foot (same bone) halfway through the season.
A running back/linebacker, MacVane returned for the Battle of the Bridge game against Portland. A win in the rivalry game took the sting out of a losing season.
A year before, the Red Riots took Thornton Academy to the wire before losing in the semifinals.
Both feet have felt fine this winter, but that doesn’t mean MacVane didn’t worry before the season that another injury to his foot would have meant surgery and the end to his basketball season.
“Conner has had a very good year,” said Conley. “He comes up with big rebounds each and every game. Conner has great hands, anticipates well and is around the ball all the time. He finds a way to score and plays great defense.”
MacVane has been around basketball since he can remember. He used to tag along with his father, Andy.
“I played for USM my last year in college,” said Andy. “Conner was 3 and he used to be at practice. The coach, Dan Costigan, was great with him.”
That father-son bond continued when Andy was an assistant coach at Scarborough for Matt Townsend, the head coach at the time.
Conner would be at practice shooting around. The younger MacVane watched his father play in men’s leagues and has tried to emulate his father’s style.
“I always remembered how my dad played and I wanted to play like him. Everything I know about basketball, I learned from my father. He taught me to be aggressive and look to attack,” said MacVane.
And that’s the way MacVane plays.
With the help of Conley, and assistant coaches Harvey Moynihan, Mike Burke and Nick Costigan, MacVane has refined his game.
Against Portland, MacVane dribbled down the right side. He was at an angle to the basket when he pulled up and banked his shot off the backboard for a basket.
That shot is a lost art at most levels of basketball, but MacVane said the bank shot is one of his favorites.
MacVane also played baseball growing up but dropped it to train for his other two sports.
“I got into lifting for football and plus it wasn’t one of my favorite sports,” he said,
Because the tournament is regarded as wide open, MacVane said the Riots don’t feel any pressure being ranked No. 1.
“The loss to Cheverus in our last game opened our eyes,” he said. “We know we all have to play together.”
MacVane provides both intensity and levity for his teammates.
“Conner comes ready to play every game,” said Carr. “He also throws up the grossest shots in practice and somehow they go in.”
MacVane is looking at Maine Maritime Academy and Castleton State College in Vermont to continue his education and athletic career,
“I’ve talked to the basketball coach at (Maine Maritime). I’m going to be talking to the football coach, too,” he said.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: