December 7, 2012

Steve Solloway: Don't look for Blodgett at the Expo

Cindy Blodgett can't be in two places at once early Saturday afternoon. She won't be at the Portland Expo when the University of Rhode Island plays Maine in a non-conference women's basketball game.

click image to enlarge

In this March 2011 photo, Cindy Blodgett speaks at a news conference in Bangor.

AP photo by Robert F. Bukaty

"I have a recruiting trip," said Blodgett, now an assistant coach on the URI staff but still the best female shooter Maine has ever seen. "We divide up the trips. This is my week.

"You want to be with your players. You hate it when you're not there. But I have to go to a tournament."

She probably doesn't care if that passes your straight-face test or not. So Saturday won't be her homecoming. So what.

"None of this is about me. Life evolves. Life moves on."

She's the legendary player who filled Maine gyms and arenas almost every time she played from four years at Lawrence High to four years at the state university. She led one team to four straight high school championships and the other to four straight appearances in the NCAA tournament. Twice she was the nation's scoring leader.

She got the job as Maine's head basketball coach in 2008. In four seasons, her teams won only one game out of every four played. With one year remaining on her contract, she was released after the 2011 season.

Blodgett was angry. She called her own press conference off campus to say the university should have honored its commitment to her. The neophyte coach needed that one more year to turn the program around. She believed in herself even as so many others abandoned her.

That was then. Thursday she sounded so much happier. She returned to coaching. Shortly after Maine told her to leave, Rhode Island beckoned. Cathy Inglese once recruited Blodgett to play for her at Boston College. Years later she landed Sarah Marshall, the Catherine McAuley star.

Inglese wanted Blodgett again, this time to help turn around a faltering Atlantic 10 program. Over the summer, Gina Castelli, a former five-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year while at Siena, came on board as Rhode Island's director of player development.

Maine didn't have the resources or inclination to give Blodgett a mentor when she was named head coach. Now, as an assistant coach, she has two.

"We don't really have a coaching hierarchy like first assistant, second assistant," said Blodgett. "I'm part of a coaching team. Cathy is sort of a legend in her own right. She knows a great deal of basketball and pays close attention to detail. It's wonderful to have a colleague who is gracious and honest. Gina is fantastic. I'm surrounded by great people who know the game."

Blodgett's responsibilities are varied. "When you're a former head coach you've had your hands in everything. I work primarily with the guards and with player development. We split up the scouting and the recruiting."

Inglese was the winningest coach in the nation some 20 years ago at Vermont. Her teams won 52 straight games. Her Boston College team with Sarah Marshall won the Big East tournament in 2004. Inglese had a record of 120-74 at Vermont, 273-197 at BC.

Her Rhode Island teams are 16-41 after three seasons. They're 3-6 coming into Portland. Six freshmen and three sophomores are on the roster.

"For the first time we're seeing positive steps forward," said Blodgett. "It's taken a lot of preparation but now we have some very confident kids."

She's two years removed from the Maine program. She recruited Ashleigh Roberts, Maine's junior guard with the scoring touch. And Corinne Wellington, a senior reserve forward. Rachele Burns and Amber Smith and Samantha Wheeler played for her and are student assistants on the coaching staff. Assistant Coach Amy Vachon was a teammate.

Does Blodgett allow herself to peek at Maine's record? Does she track Roberts' progress? Blodgett didn't really answer. Her energy and her mind and her loyalty are with Rhode Island.

"I'm enjoying where we are right now. The administration here has been very supportive. We've struggled but that support hasn't wavered."

Where's her heart? Blodgett is a Mainer, the daughter of parents who both worked in Maine mills. She worked to make herself the pure scoring phenomenon that made fans gasp when she first ran the court as a high school freshman. Her magic didn't stop until she took off her Maine uniform for the last time.

She would have been embraced Saturday afternoon at the Expo. Not for what she didn't accomplish.

But for what she did.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway

 

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