SOUTH PORTLAND – The Maine Red Claws and the Long Creek Youth Development Center basketball team already had at least one thing in common: the high turnover rate of their rosters.

Recently, players from the NBA development team and the juvenile correctional center’s A.R. Gould School found out they shared another similarity — that many of them couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving.

Ten Red Claws players and their coach joined the 17 members of the high school team for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday in Long Creek’s cafeteria.

Before the midday meal, they sat around tables talking about everything from their aspirations to their shoe size.

Long Creek resident Alex Pedroza was amazed to learn that Red Claws center Mike Tisdale wears a size 18.

“It’s a freakin’ boat,” said Pedroza, whose probation violation prevented him from being at home in Bowdoin for the holiday.

For the first time, Tisdale wasn’t spending Thanksgiving with his family in Springfield, Ill. Instead, he was heading to Springfield, Mass., where the Red Claws will play their season opener at 7 tonight.

Kenny Hayes, one of the Red Claws’ few returning players, said he has spent Thanksgivings away from home since high school because he’s always been busy with basketball. But as long as he’s with his teammates, he’s with family, he said.

Hayes hopes to cultivate close relationships with the A.R. Gould players, too.

Over turkey and mashed potatoes, he talked to the teenagers about believing in themselves and maintaining their focus. He hopes to make it to one of their games this season.

“That’s why I want to come back — to make sure they stay on that same path,” he said.

Thursday wasn’t the first time that members of the Red Claws have been to Long Creek. Among other visits, a few players attended a pep rally for the basketball team before their unsuccessful bid for the Class D championship in 2010.

Chad Sturgis, the basketball coach at Long Creek, said every interaction with the Red Claws is exciting for the players.

“It motivates them, because it makes them feel special,” he said.

In the past, the students, who don’t have access to the Internet, have asked Sturgis to look up information about the players’ statistics, backgrounds and game performances.

“They talk about it all the time,” he said.

During dinner Thursday, Long Creek Superintendent Rod Bouffard was heartened to see the teenagers and professional athletes in constant, easy conversation over the mounds of food in front of them.

The holidays can be an emotional time for Long Creek residents, he said, but there were no sad faces in the room.

“This is going to mean a lot more than helping them through the holidays,” he said. “But it’s certainly going to do that.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:

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