South Portland junior varsity Coach Dave Cousins shouted out a shooting tip to Matt Pelletier after he missed a 3-pointer during Tuesday’s game against Scarborough. The next time down the floor, Pelletier drilled a 3 from the right side.
If anyone is qualified to offer such tips, it would seem to be Cousins, one of the best shooters in Red Riots’ history. Cousins is back at his alma mater as the junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach.
“It’s great to be back in this (Beal) gym,” said Cousins. “I have some great memories here.”
Cousins, now 51, played on back-to-back undefeated Class A state championship teams in 1979 and 1980. As a senior, Cousins was the Red Riots’ leading scorer with a 20-ppg average and a career-best 43 points against Westbrook. Cousins played before the 3-point shot was instituted. After high school, he played at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
Cousins returned to Maine a couple of years ago after working as the marketing director for the Barre-Montpelier Times-Argus in Vermont. He now works for Direct Maine of Maine and as a substitute teacher at South Portland High.
“I always wanted to coach and never did it,” said Cousins who lives in South Portland with his wife Jean.
Cousins approached South Portland Coach Phil Conley shortly after he returned to the state and asked if there were any openings on his staff. There weren’t, but there was one at Scarborough High where Cousins coached the junior varsity last season. South Portland had an opening this season and Cousins was hired.
“Dave has been a perfect fit,” said Conley.
“He works extremely hard for the program. After an hour and a half of JV practice, Dave will stay for the two-hour varsity practice. He loves to teach basketball and loves to be around the kids. I talk about the rich tradition of South Portland basketball to the kids. Dave is a big part of that tradition.”
Conley credits Cousins with helping improve a young Riots backcourt. Cousins loves to work on shooting.
“It’s satisfying because most everyone wants to work on their shot, which is perfect for me because shooting is my passion,” said Cousins.
“I love teaching shooting. When they see themselves improving, it makes it rewarding.”
Cousins grew up in an era when kids shot alone at a driveway basket or played pickup games. There were no AAU teams. During the winter, Cousins would wear a glove on his left hand as he put up shot after shot with his right.
“When I was young, we shot at 81/2-foot baskets in South Portland Grammar School League,” he said.
“We didn’t have to bring the ball down to our hip to reach the basket because we could reach the basket shooting the proper way with the elbow in, your pointing finger in the middle of the ball, the ball flowing off your finger tips with everything aligned to the basket. I tell my players to catch the ball in stride and shoot. For me, it was a natural feel.”
When Cousins got to high school, the Riots were loaded with talent with the likes of Brett Brown, the current Philadelphia 76ers coach, and Vinall Trophy winner Ken Lynch, who formed a powerful backcourt combo. Cousins was a year behind Brown and Lynch in school and averaged around 8 points per game his junior year.
“There was always someone pushing you. You couldn’t take a night off because another player was ready to take your spot.”
Cousins didn’t make the varsity as a sophomore even though his tryout caught Coach Bob Brown’s eye.
“Coach Brown told me I had a heck of a tryout and I was good enough to be on the varsity, but felt I would be better served if I played on the JVs because I would get game experience,” he said.
Looking back, Cousins is glad he did because that’s exactly what happened – he got game experience which eased his transition to the varsity level.
Cousins tells his JV players the same thing.
“When their junior and senior seasons come, they’ll be ready to go,” he said. “There’s something to say about practicing against the varsity, but you’re not getting game experience.”
Cousins sees his job as getting players ready for the varsity.
“I remember a lot of people helping me with basketball growing up. This is my chance to give back.”
IN ANTICIPATION OF their lone meeting of the regular season this Tuesday night at 7:30 and knowing they would likely be two of the top teams, Bonny Eagle and Portland moved their game to St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Both teams are likely to be undefeated when they meet. Bonny Eagle is ranked No. 1 in Western Maine Class A while Portland is tied for third in the Heal point standings.
Bonny Eagle’s gym has limited capacity with stands only on one side.
“Before the season, I talked with Joe (Russo) about this,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Phil Bourassa. “I asked why not get a college-size venue. We don’t want to turn people away. Hopefully, we’ll sell out the place.”
Bonny Eagle will be giving up its home-court advantage, but Bourassa said promoting high school basketball is more important.
It will be a girl-boy basketball doubleheader as the girls teams will play at 6 p.m.
In 1992, South Portland and Deering were both unbeaten late in the season. Because of ticket demand, Deering moved the game to the Portland Expo where an estimated 2,100 fans watched the Red Riots win. The two teams played for the Western Maine title at the Cumberland County Civic Center with the Riots winning in a game that wasn’t decided until the final shot. South Portland went on to win an epic five-OT state final over Bangor, also at the Civic Center.
FALMOUTH AND GREELY meet for the second time this season on Saturday at 7 p.m., at Falmouth. Playing at home, Greely dealt the Yachtsmen their only loss of the season, 57-53 on Dec. 21. Both schools are ranked No. 2 in their respective classes – Falmouth in Class A and Greely in Class B. Falmouth moved from B to A before the season. Falmouth is playing its familiar Western Maine conference schedule, but will play in the A tournament in February. The Yachtsmen won the Class B title last year.
“Greely is one of the best teams in the state,” said Falmouth Coach Dave Halligan. “We were incorporating some younger guys into our lineup the first time we played them. Hopefully, they’ve learned from their mistakes. We’re playing well. We just have to become more consistent.”
Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: