ORONO — Zak Boisvert is a Maine native recently hired as an assistant basketball coach at the state’s flagship university, and he has an odd admission.

“I’d never actually been up to Orono in my life,” the lifelong hoops junkie from Portland said while perched high above the university’s old Memorial Gym. “It was closer to go to Boston for college games and Celtics games. We never made it up here. The only Maine game I ever saw was actually played at the Civic Center in Portland.”

Boisvert certainly understands the challenge of making the UMaine men’s basketball team resonate in a state that has typically paid it little heed. It’s why he joined new coach Bob Walsh’s staff.

“I think that if you embody that work ethic that’s seen throughout the state and you have results, they’re going to come out,” he said. “And I think that’s going to happen.”

It may sound like the optimism of youth. Boisvert turns 26 on Thursday, barely older than some of the upperclassmen he’ll be coaching.

But since being cut from his Deering High team as a junior and turning his back on a degree in English at Fordham to take a $5,000-a-year job as a video coordinator for the Iona College team, he has devoted a good chunk of his young life to coaching.

“I knew I couldn’t do the cubicle thing,” Boisvert said. “When I was a kid, I knew the stats, I paid attention to coaching, I paid attention to transactions. I was a basketball nut. I’ve never made a paycheck doing anything else.

“This is 100 percent what I love to do, and I wanted to chase that a little bit.”

Fateful story No. 1: Boisvert met the man he now works for a decade ago at a summer basketball camp.

Dan LeGage, who was the coach at Deering who cut Boisvert from the team, took his players to the camp at Providence College in the summer of 2004. Walsh was then a Friars assistant and ran the camp.

LeGage called Boisvert and Walsh over.

“Coach LeGage introduced me to Bob and said to me, ‘Bob Walsh is going to end up being a Division I head coach,’ ” Boisvert said. “And he told Coach Walsh, ‘Zak’s going to end up coaching some day.’ ”

None of this happened right away. Walsh, who doesn’t remember that meeting, went on to coach Division III Rhode Island College for nine years before landing the Maine job last month.

Boisvert traveled a more circuitous path. At Fordham, he spent more time dissecting video while serving as the basketball team’s manager than he did dissecting sentences as he pondered a career in journalism. His summers were devoted to working basketball camps from coast to coast, flopping on friends’ couches along the way, and feverishly networking. By his junior year, he knew that his future would be tied to the sport. So he went to Iona, “lived in an old lady’s attic,” and took on more video duties.

Fateful story No. 2: From there, Boisvert was set to join the staff at USC. But an arcane NCAA rule got in the way. It seems that a player from Boisvert’s Fordham days had since transferred to Southern California, and that association meant the would-be coach got an 11th-hour phone call saying the deal was off.

Desperate for work, he was offered a job running AAU tournaments for the Hoop Group in New Jersey, where he’d worked a number of camps over the years and clearly made an impression. It wasn’t coaching. Instead, Boisvert spent his time hiring trainers, setting up concession stands, getting the insurance paperwork in order. He also meet dozens of high school coaches up and down the Eastern Seaboard. One Hoop Group tournament was in Providence, where Boisvert dropped in on a few of Walsh’s practices to observe and ask questions.

When that year was done, Boisvert returned to Iona for a full-fledged assistant coaching job. The Gaels made the NCAA tournament that year, and Boisvert vividly remembers walking onto the court to face Ohio State in a nationally televised loss.

“It’s like, you’re cut from your high school team, all those bus rides, all those camps, the late nights, how the (heck) did I get here? It makes all that stuff worth it,” Boisvert said.

His next stop was Fairleigh Dickinson for an assistant job that offered more responsibility. Boisvert planned to stay in New Jersey, but his old acquaintance Walsh got the Maine position, and here he is, back home for the first time in eight years.

Boisvert and Walsh said it was their longstanding admiration for each other, not the Maine connection, that led to the Orono pairing. But being able to partake in a Sunday family dinner from time to time made it more enticing for Boisvert.

And it gives Walsh, a New York native, an assistant who knows the landscape and has extensive contacts in his new state.

Actually, Boisvert has connections everywhere. For years, he has been emailing a monthly newsletter to basketball coaches throughout the country. About 2,000 receive it these days. It contains diagrams of plays, quotes and articles about the profession.

Walsh, who also prides himself on taking a cerebral approach to basketball, admitted it can be a little daunting to be on Boisvert’s email list.

“He would send me packets of stuff, like, ‘Here’s a look at some of the best baseline out-of-bounds action I’ve seen this year.’ It was so thick I couldn’t get through it all,” Walsh said. “He certainly has an aptitude and intellect for the game that I really like. And a relentless work ethic.

“But one of the best things that he said was, ‘I really want to tell you Coach, I’m a terrible yes man. I cannot leave the office if I disagree with you without telling you that. And it will stay in the office, but I just have to let you know.’ And I think that’s terrific. I want to be challenged.”

Boisvert even remains close with LeGage, who never coached him in an actual game at Deering. Boisvert would occasionally watch LeGage run a practice while home from college on a winter break. LeGage, who stepped away from coaching last year, would get the newsletters with reams of basketball plays. They still speak regularly.

“Usually, it doesn’t happen that way,” LeGage said of maintaining a relationship with a player you had to cut. “This is a quintessential Maine kid, hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone, who just had a deep-seated passion for the game of basketball and he was not going to let anything get in his way.

“I’m instantly going to pay a lot more attention to UMaine basketball.”

So that’s Boisvert’s first hometown convert. How many others will follow?

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