KENNEBUNK — When a coach takes over a program ”“ whether it’s in high school or the pros ”“ he needs to be able to sell his style and his system to his new team.

That’s no different for new Kennebunk boys basketball coach Barrett Belanger.

“Hands down, getting in with the kids right away and getting them to buy into a brand-new system and a brand-new approach before the actual season starts is the most important thing to having team success as a new coach,” said Belanger. “If they don’t trust you and believe in what you’re doing, then your task becomes so difficult. Having not been around these kids prior to being hired, I needed to get to know them and they needed to get to know me.”

Belanger made sure his players ”“ and the community ”“ got to know who he was and what he was all about.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better first experience. We had a great summer, the turnout was high, we ran youth camps as a team for the community, and we had a lot of fun together. Basketball is meant to be a fun sport and we put a huge emphasis on that from the very beginning,” said Belanger, who moves up to varsity after coaching the Kennebunk seventh grade boys team.

The challenge of getting to know the players and getting them to buy in to his philosophy was a difficult one, but Belanger said he was never too worried about it.

“I am very confident in my ability to relate to the players. I was never concerned with that challenge,” said Belanger. “What I was concerned with was throwing a brand-new system at them in such a short span of time. To the credit of the kids, they are doing nothing similar to what they have done in the past, both offensively and defensively, and they are learning incredibly quickly. They have made my transition much easier than I expected.”

Belanger takes over a young Rams team, which won just six games last year, but he has been impressed with their work in the preseason.

“The first few weeks of practice have been great. Even going back to try-outs, we saw 40 kids try out for the program, 16 of them being freshmen. Numbers like that haven’t been seen in Kennebunk in years, so it shows me that there is a rejuvenation of interest and that’s important to building a program,” said Belanger. “I’ve worked hard at keeping practices very up-tempo and competitive in order to get the most out of the kids. So far, the response at all levels has been great and that effort in practice has translated to some very successful preseason games.”

Despite having just one returning starter, Belanger is hoping to lead the Rams back to the playoffs for the first time in several years.

“Any coach wants to win. I want to win, I want these kids to experience winning. Ultimately, we want to bring Kennebunk basketball back into the postseason,” said Belanger. “We have a lot of hard work to do in order to achieve that goal, but success breads success. If we can start winning this year, the community becomes excited again, and the desire to continue that success begins.”

However his first season plays out, Belanger said he is thrilled to have the opportunity to lead the Kennebunk program.

“I love the game of basketball and I love working with kids. To be able to teach kids the sport that I am most passionate about is awesome. Through a lot of support from members of the community, I have found myself in the perfect situation. Hopefully, through coaching this program, I am able to give a little something back,” said Belanger.

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected]

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