March 1, 2013

Steve Solloway: The season of endings, some sad

Sean Bergeron needed help. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound big man for the University of Southern Maine was on his butt beneath the basket and trying to get up.

He leaned forward, thought better of the effort needed and motioned for teammates. Within seconds he was pulled to his feet.

To know Bergeron's back story is to make that moment one to remember from the 2013 basketball tournament season that isn't finished yet.

Not all memories are of championships and Gold Balls. Some are poignant. But memories nevertheless.

Bergeron is a young man with an old man's knees. Three surgeries repaired torn anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee. A fourth took a tendon from his right leg to help his left knee.

The last surgery kept him in a wheelchair for about a week. He missed two seasons and part of a third. For a while, he pushed basketball out of his mind.

His roommate is Mike Poulin, the team's point guard from Winthrop. A fellow fifth-year senior because he missed two seasons with a broken wrist and a torn-up knee, they were freshmen together. They're both business majors. They both know what it's like to be stuck on a shelf through no fault of their own.

This summer and fall Poulin would ask his roomie: Gonna play for us? We need a big man. Bergeron kept shaking his head no. Then he said yes.

Younger teammates called them the Ice Men, said Poulin. It seemed they were always disappearing into the training room or packing ice on knees. Away from the court, you could almost hear them creak.

Bergeron changed the way he played the game. No more drives to the basket. No quick cuts. Poulin adapted, too, although in less obvious ways. His primary duty was to distribute the ball. If he saw an open path to the basket, he took it.

Both men could have stayed away and saved their bodies. The USM men's team has not been successful. But Poulin and then Bergeron saw hope.

The USM men won 15 games for the first time in 21 years. They lost in the Little East Conference semifinals last weekend and lost Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament. The season is finished.

Two roommates have no regrets.

 

MIKE MCGEE awoke several times in the middle of the night this week, sweating and yelling. "Get your hands up!" Or, "The ball didn't go in."

But it did, ending one man's 31-year coaching career at the same school.

McGee was the Lawrence High basketball coach. He announced his retirement at the start of the season and his players wanted him to go out on his terms by beating top-seeded Hampden Academy in the Eastern Class A final.

The game seemed won. Lawrence led 39-37 with four seconds left.

Except Nick Gilpin took a long pass after a missed Lawrence foul shot. In one motion he shot from about 30 feet.

"The ball left his hand and I looked up at the ceiling, saying it's going, it's going in." The roar of the Augusta Civic Center crowd confirmed McGee's worst fear.

"Usually when I get into the locker room after the last game, I'm crying for the seniors who will never play for me again. That night I was too shocked to cry at first."

For days, McGee has been thinking about a successful 31-year career defined by four seconds of the final game. "The knockout punch was seeing it on (ESPN's) Sportscenter as one of the plays of the day. It was No. 4."

McGee has gotten hundreds of phone messages and text messages, many from other coaches.

(Continued on page 2)

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