Andy Bedard’s three children are too young to fully understand why their father started yelling at the television last week. They heard him again late Sunday night when Tyrone Garland dropped in the shot that gave La Salle its 76-74 victory over Mississippi, long after they were tucked into their beds.
“I’m keeping my kids up all night,” said Bedard, a bit sheepishly. “I’ve never acted this way. I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”
But he does. It’s called March Madness, otherwise known as the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. La Salle’s head coach is Dr. John Giannini, who had Bedard at the University of Maine some 13 years ago. Suddenly, one of Maine’s greatest high school basketball players can’t stop cheering for the former coach who became his friend.
“I’m invested, totally invested, said Bedard, a Rumford native. “I talked to my wife about flying to Los Angeles (where La Salle plays Wichita State next) but it’s probably not going to happen. Can you believe that game starts at 10:30 (actually, 10:17 p.m. Thursday)? My kids will never get to sleep. I don’t know when I will.”
For so long, Mainers have been passive onlookers. No, cheering for the teams you picked to complete your brackets in the office or online pool doesn’t count. Now you’ve got a horse in this race, even if it is a small Catholic university from Philadelphia. Its coach used to be your coach for eight seasons.
One week ago La Salle was one of 68 teams invited to the tournament. Now, after three victories, it’s one of 16. The Explorers hadn’t won a tournament game since 1990. They didn’t win the Atlantic 10 tournament championship this year and had to hope for an at-large bid.
That’s why Bedard watches and yells at his television and texts Giannini the morning after. Other Maine men are doing the same although they’re not yelling. At least not yet.
Chris Markwood pays closer attention when the television camera goes to Giannini on the sideline. He sees more gray in Giannini’s short hair. He also sees the same quiet intensity. “He’s mellowed a little,” said Markwood, “but he’s still all about preparation and the smallest details.”
A South Portland kid, Markwood began his college playing career at Notre Dame before transferring to Maine. He joined the staff of Ted Woodward, Giannini’s former assistant and successor. Markwood is now the top assistant at Vermont.
The two see each other on recruiting trips. They’ve gotten together at previous NCAA tournaments for a bite to eat and a beer.
“He’s got an older group of kids on this team. He really trusts them, he really likes them.”
The head coach who grew up in Chicago and his former player talk about Maine. “It’s a place very dear to him,” said Markwood. “He tries to get back once or twice a year for his fishing trips.”
Kevin Reed, now the athletic director and basketball coach at Bangor Christian High, played for Giannini at Maine about 20 years ago, setting school records in assists and 3-point shooting. “I’ve never experienced a college coach who has so much enthusiasm. He had such a good way of preparing his players to play, emotionally. He has his doctorate in sports psychology and he uses it. If I walked into his office with a problem, I walked out the happiest guy on campus.”
Reed grew up in Worcester, Mass., and attended a prep school. Giannini was in the bleachers at Bridgton Academy one winter when Reed’s team came north to play. Except Giannini wasn’t there for Reed. “I was No. 5 on his list and he wanted to see his No. 1. I scored 36 points that day, including the game-winner, and the next day he’s calling me.
“He never lied. He wanted me to come to Maine, but he made sure to tell me how cold it was, how white (Reed is black) it is and how he’s not going to have Miss Maine waiting for me.”
Bedard went to New York City to watch La Salle in the Atlantic 10 tournament and its quarterfinals loss to Butler. Bedard saw something.
“They’re just a joy to watch. They’re playing for each other. I said to myself, wow, they’ve got something going. We were on fire early.”
Bedard’s 6-year-old son filled out his Final Four bracket the other day. Three of the four are Florida teams. Hey, who doesn’t love family trips to Disneyworld? The fourth team is La Salle.
“He’s heard me yelling,” said Dad, “He knows it’s my team.”
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at;