Tom McGowan isn’t shy about playing with an edge, perhaps because he hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be cut from a team or to miss a whole season because of an injury.
By Tom Chard
WINDHAM — Tom McGowan is ensconced as Windham High's point guard as another high school basketball season opens tonight. But, oh, what a path he took to get there.
Turn the clock back two years ago to his sophomore year. Through hard work and determination, McGowan makes the varsity. In the opening game of the season, the Eagles are searching for a point guard. Coach Kevin Millington inserts McGowan into the game early and he scores six straight points and does a nice job running the team. Later, Millington tells McGowan he's the point guard for the rest of the season.
All of this is pretty amazing when you consider that prior to that season, McGowan had played hardly any basketball. He didn't make the seventh grade team, which was devastating because McGowan is a self-described basketball junkie. He made the eighth grade team, but broke his arm during practice at Thanksgiving and missed the whole year. In ninth grade, McGowan made the team again, but was a reserve.
McGowan made the leap to being a starting point guard his sophomore year in arguably the best league in the state after not having played the previous three years.
"Tommy worked his tail off," said Millington.
"He was this pudgy little kid in middle school, but you could tell he loved the game. He started to thin out in the eighth and ninth grades. He's really evolved into a good player and a leader. He's come into his own," he said.
The Eagles play at South Portland tonight. As the first of 18 regular-season games, the driving force for the seniors is to make the tournament, something they haven't done yet.
McGowan is driven to improve, which was evident early on. He has overcame his slow start in the sport to become one of the SMAA's top point guards in a league stocked with them. He's unquestionably Windham's leader. The 6-foot McGowan averaged 8 points a game last season with 3.0 assists. He shot 62 percent from the line.
"He plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, but in a good way," said Millington.
"When I get on him for something, Tommy just works harder. He's really matured."
Recalling his seventh grade snub, McGowan was determined not to let it be the end of his hoop dreams.
"I was crying because I thought I should have made the team," said McGowan.
Windham has an in-house league for students who don't make the teams. McGowan played in that and he also got to do something special during that winter. Millington made him a ballboy for the varsity.
"Tommy just wanted to be around the game. He went to every practice and home game," said Millington. "We had a good group of players and they took Tommy under their wing."
McGowan got to see first hand how varsity players work on their games. He shot around and played one-on-one with them after practice. He entered his eighth grade year determined to make the team, which he did, but then he broke his arm when a teammate bear hugged him and tossed him to the floor horsing around.
"I was pretty upset about that," he said.
About this time, McGowan started to lose his pudginess and get stronger. He also made a pledge. He was going to do all he could to improve as a basketball player.
"I was sick and tired of sitting the bench," said McGowan.
"I told myself that basketball was my passion. I started going to basketball camps, lift weights and play AAU," he said.
Shooting at his basket in his driveway, McGowan would set up props to help him improve.
"I had all kinds of things. I would set up a ladder in front of the basket so I would have to shoot over it," he said.
The summer before his sophomore year, McGowan was a familiar sight early in the morning shooting around in the school gym, a routine he continued before school that fall.
The extra work paid off. McGowan made the varsity after initially being pegged for the junior varsity team. Then in the season opener, he's at point guard.
"It was nerve racking at first," said McGowan. "Getting used to the faster pace was the biggest thing."
Having become a starter, McGowan wanted more.
"I wasn't satisfied with just being a starter," he said.
Heading into his senior season, McGowan said he's stronger and more athletic. He can use his left hand as well as his right. The Eagles will look for McGowan to score more this season.
"I like to slash to the basket and draw contact," he said.
"Tom's gone through a lot," said his father, Dan.
"He was quite down on himself after not making the team in the seventh grade. He set goals for himself and has worked hard to achieve them. As parents, we're quite proud of him. "
Over the past year, McGowan's drive has expanded. Concerned about being pegged as only a basketball player, McGowan, an honor roll student, has branched out.
"I feel I'm a pretty good athlete. People were telling me I was just a basketball player."
Two years ago, he would have been happy with that tag, but not now.
Last spring, he went out for lacrosse for the first time, and this fall, McGowan became the starting goalie in soccer after having never played that position before.
"I think Tom realized in this age of specialization that being an all-around athlete could help him in the long run," said Millington.
Millington calls on McGowan's experience in another way during the winter. He has his point guard talk to middle school students who have been cut from the team.
McGowan was at a low point just like them, and look where he is now.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:
Even in practice Tom McGowan shows the kind of wide-eyed intensity that’s made him a standout at Windham High despite limited opportunity to play organized basketball until a couple seasons ago.