WATERVILLE – When T.J. Maines was very young, he might have thought the men visiting his father, Tom Maines, were family. In his own home or someone else’s home, he listened to these men talk basketball, argue basketball or tell stories about the game that stoked their passion.

The younger Maines could have called Bob Brown, Art Dyer and Dick Whitmore his uncles. Friday he’ll introduce them and his father as Maine coaching legends. The dozens of fellow basketball coaches attending the six-hour clinic at Thomas College won’t think Maines is talking in hyperbole.

The four have coached high school and college teams to more than 1,500 victories, dozens of tournament appearances, and about another dozen state championships over a roughly 40-year period. They are competitors in the broadest sense and friends in the most personal way.

For years they would retreat to a camp in the woods to unwind from the intensity each brought to their practices and sidelines, and fish and talk more basketball. They pitched ideas and made plans. Neither was a disciple of the other, but collectively how they approached the game influenced generations of coaches and players.

Late last winter, T.J. Maines found himself in tears while driving to Colby College to talk to Whitmore. After 40 seasons and 637 victories, Whitmore had announced his retirement at age 68. Maines had played for his father’s friend and that day was trying to come to terms with the end of a time that probably won’t be duplicated.

Brown, in his 70s and still coaching at Cheverus High after a lifetime of success at other places, could end his career tomorrow and not have to give a reason. Dyer retired in 1998 after a short stint as an assistant coach at Fairfield University. His great high school teams at Medomak Valley (10 straight tournament appearances, two state titles) and Westbrook (tournament appearances in 9 of 10 seasons and a state title) are the major part of his legacy.

Tom Maines won state titles at Morse in three consecutive seasons and at age 65 started a new chapter last week when Scarborough named him its new varsity girls’ basketball coach. His philosophy of relentless, pressure defense and fast-break offense was a game plan not seen much when he introduced it in the 1980s. Play the game faster than your opponent.

All four men saw basketball and coaching as an evolutionary process. They stayed true to the foundation of the game but used their unique creativity when building their own programs. And used each other to explore different strategies and tactics.

Coaches in all sports find peers that share core beliefs and friendships. These four seemed to take it to another level over a longer period of time.

“Getting them together like this is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said T.J. Maines, starting his fifth season as head coach at Thomas College. “If I didn’t do it now, when was I going to do it?”

Even in their later years, getting the four men together was a challenge. The days of their fabled camp in the woods were in the past. Brown and Tom Maines are still coaching, Whitmore is looking at a business opportunity, and Dyer owns and manages properties.

Maines shakes his head. His perspective is different. Playing for a father is one thing. Playing for a legend and in his case, two legends, is something else. T.J. Maines played for Morse teams that won 51 out of 56 games. At Colby the four-year record was 83-15.

Sometimes it seemed his father demanded more from him than his Morse teammates. Once, his mother came to his defense after a game, confronting Tom Maines.

The heated coach fumed back. “He told her to make an appointment to talk to the coach like everybody else,” said T.J. Maines. The son once asked his father if he treated him differently from anyone else.

“I like all my players,” Tom Maines told his son. “I love you.”

Legends have feelings, too.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway