“Cut, cut, cut … Stick it … Boards … Good job.”

“Play it through … back to the baseline … back to the point … That’s it … Put it in.”

Gary Fifield, looking a little strange wearing the purple and gold warm-up of Cheverus High, stands under the basket and surveys the basketball court in front of him, arms often folded, hands sometimes gesturing in the air, head always swiveling to see what each player is doing.

Two years after retiring as the University of Southern Maine coach, Fifield is back in his element, coaching and teaching the game of basketball.

“This is what I missed the most,” he said before practice. “The contact with the kids and teaching. This is a good fit for me. I don’t have to recruit and the travel isn’t too bad.”

Fifield, 64, retired from USM in 2015 after 27 seasons leading a highly successful women’s basketball program. He had a career record of 660-137 and led the Huskies to five NCAA Division III Final Four appearances, three times advancing to the championship game.

He spent the next season as an assistant at Appalachian State, coached by one of his former players, Angel Elderkin, but didn’t coach last year. He’s back because he missed the game.

“Throughout the (2016-17) season I was missing it,” he said. “I was doing some things, going to some practices and games, and taking notes for coaches, but …”

He missed being on the court, teaching. He missed the daily contact with players. Now he’s back. While he has the same demanding philosophy for his high school players that he did at USM, he has had to adapt a bit.

“The game’s the same,” said Fifield. “It’s just the speed, the strength, the skill level is not the same. I mean, the game was the same when I worked with USA Basketball. (Connecticut Coach) Geno (Auriemma) did the same drills that I ran … Basketball is basketball. The biggest challenge is getting a team organized and ready to play in a shorter period of time.”

In college, he said, teams had 25 to 28 practices and a couple of exhibition games. In high school, you have maybe 12 practices and two scrimmages. Fifield said that doesn’t give you time to teach individual skills and he’s had to condense practices to focus on getting the team ready for a Dec. 8 opener at Windham.

But he hasn’t changed his style or philosophy. He runs many of the same drills he ran at USM.

“He’s coaching just like he did when he left,” said Jordan Grant, a Cheverus assistant who played for Fifield at USM. “It’s really cool to see him at this level.”

His new players appreciate his history of success and demanding presence on the court.

“I like how direct he is and straight-forward he is,” said Abby Cavallaro, a senior guard for the Stags. “He’s always giving us little things to work on; he always has something little for us to tweak, which ends up helping us.”

Like the time in practice Tuesday he stopped a drill to ask a player which foot should have been forward in her defensive position.

“It’s small things, like a quicker first step or a quicker rotation,” said Cavallaro, who plans to attend the University of New England. “It’s all going to lead to a better success rate.”

He’s certainly demanding.

“Something about him just always makes you want to impress him,” said Cavallaro. “He always makes you want to strive to be the best you can be. Like yesterday, I was slacking off a little bit on defense and he figured it out. ‘Come on, you can do better.’ He’s always driving you to be your best.”

Fifield just shrugs when asked if he can be as demanding of high school players as he was of college players. “That’s my personality,” he said. “I can’t change.”

And he doesn’t think the Stags would want him to change.

“They’re athletes and I’m treating them as athletes,” said Fifield. “The same demands. And I think they want to be coached that way.”

In Tuesday’s practice, he stopped one drill because he didn’t think the players were running full speed. “Stop,” he said. “You’re jogging. You can’t go through the motions. Start again.”

“In drills he wants you always to go 100 percent, just like any coach would,” said Emme Poulin, a senior guard for Cheverus who has accepted a scholarship to play at Division II Assumption. “But there’s something about him that makes you want to work harder.”

Fifield isn’t sure what to expect this season. This truly is uncharted territory for him as a coach.

He knows some of the coaches he’ll face and respects all of them. But because he wasn’t around recruiting the last couple of years, he’s not sure what the talent level will be.

He knows two-time defending Class AA champ Gorham will be good. So will South Portland and Scarborough. And he’s heard Portland got some transfers who will provide a boost.

His team? Small but athletic. “We’re going to have to play up-tempo,” he said.

In Poulin and Cavallaro, who plays the point, he may have the best backcourt in the league. They combined for 23.1 points, 5.9 assists and 5.1 steals per game last year. They’ll be joined by three other seniors – forward Michaela Jordan, and post players Kat Kane and Sara Taylor – and Fifield is counting on them to be leaders.

“I told them they only get one time to be a senior in high school and it’s up to them to make the most of it,” said Fifield. “And I also told them that all the good teams I had before all had great leadership.”

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