Hello Bob Walsh. Welcome to Ice Station Orono, where the wind howls along with lonely basketball fans, and where hope waits to be unfrozen.
Shake hands with Jack Cosgrove, the football coach and your new University of Maine colleague. Meet Richard Barron, the women’s basketball coach and Red Gendron, who is rebranding the hockey team. Pick their brains.
You’re the new men’s basketball coach from Rhode Island and New York, and a short stop or two in between. Judging by the response from those who know, you’re a quick learner, a high-energy guy. Even better, you energize those around you.
You’ve just accepted the biggest challenge of your coaching career. That won’t bother you because with success you’ll realize the biggest reward. Take Maine basketball to the NCAA tournament for the first time and a silver ticket to the future is yours. Win a game or two during March Madness and everything will turn golden.
You’ll need talented players, of course. You must somehow turn Ice Station Orono into Paradise Island. Difficult but not impossible. Cosgrove and Barron have done it. Gendron, into his second season, will get his hockey recruits although they are a different species.
Don’t sacrifice character and personal chemistry for talent. Mainers take most things very personally. In the end they won’t tolerate bad guys who score 24 points with 10 rebounds per game.
Get the character guys with talent who play for their teammates and their coach. Cosgrove’s football players rarely transfer out. That would mean abandoning their brothers. I polled maybe a dozen of them a year ago. Why stay?
They found something that had little to do with their professors, updated housing, the lack of diversions in Orono or Bangor or the hassles of transferring. They believed in Cosgrove and his staff; they believed in each other.
You know what I’m talking about.
Barron’s women could have cut and run after the miserable 2012-13 season that ended with the bus crash. They came back and realized a remarkable turnaround season and a winning record.
You had a lot of players with Rhode Island addresses on your Rhode Island College teams. Putting aside the differences between Division I and Division III players, you know it’s good business to sprinkle or stock rosters with homegrown talent.
This state isn’t barren of Division I players but the few roses bloom every 10 years or so. It’s been 12 years since Nik Caner-Medley left Deering High for a productive four seasons at Maryland. Ten years since Ralph Mims left Brunswick for Florida State and Darren Mastropaolo went from Falmouth to Bucknell, eight since Carlos Strong went from Deering to Boston University and Bryant Barr from Falmouth to Davidson.
Yes, Tom Knight of Dirigo High in Dixfield just completed his career at Notre Dame. I apologize if I’ve left someone out but that might be the list of Maine players on good Division I teams going back 12 years.
The bigger point is why none of them opted for their state university. Troy Barnies of Edward Little High and Pat McNally of Gardiner were on former coach Ted Woodward’s one winning season in 2010-11. Maine lost in the quarterfinals of the America East tourney.
The conundrum is parents and coaches ask their teenagers to reach for the stars and their state university wasn’t part of their universe. The Maine men’s basketball has to become relevant again.
Thanks to AAU basketball, recruits have traveled the U.S. They know what’s out there. Some Mainers are in denial, believing location has little impact when it comes time to commit. Orono makes Burlington, Vermont, Fargo, North Dakota, or Missoula, Montana, look like miniature Bostons.
I’ve talked to enough basketball and hockey players who cross Orono off their list. I’ve also talked with players who bought what Cosgrove and Barron are selling.
Good luck, Bob Walsh, not that I think you need it. You seem to be a man who makes his own good fortune. You can melt Ice Station Orono.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: