Becoming the head coach of the University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball team was just another aspiration to fulfill for alumnus Sam Leal.

Leal is leaving his assistant coaching job at Bates College to take over for recently retired UMF head coach Dick Meader, who was Leal’s coach only six years ago.

Sam Leal has been hired as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine at Farmington, his alma mater. Leal was an assistant coach at Bates College this past season. Theophil Syslo/Bates College

“Being a UMF grad and playing for Coach Meader, (it) is a dream come true to head back home,” Leal, a York native, said. “When I was in high school, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher/coach, and UMF was the perfect school and fit for me then.

“When I spent my four years there, I loved every minute of it. I talk to friends in the college coaching world and whenever they play at UMF, there is no community atmosphere like that. The support there is just special. Everyone cares so much about the basketball program and the student-athletes there.

“It is a place special to me. It was my home for four years, and the chance to be back there was something I had to pursue.”

Like Meader, Leal will also look to talent from Maine high schools to fill the ranks and keep the Beavers near the top of the North Atlantic Conference.

“I think UMF is the perfect place of Maine high school players to continue on and have a great four-year career,” Leal said. “It will be goal of mine to add to our team with some players from a couple of the neighboring states, but I know the talent is here in Maine and it is a great tradition of getting the best players from all around Maine to pair up, group up and continue on their basketball careers at UMF.”

Leal said he will be studying the team and evaluating their strengths before coming up with a game plan for the coming season.

“There will still be some decisions to be made on that,” Leal said. “Like any program, you have adjust a little bit to what your personnel is. I can’t force these players into a perfect square fit. We have to find the right situation for all of them so they can be successful.”

Meader remembers Leal, who played guard, as unselfish and a playmaker.

“He was a smart, intelligent player and a good defender:” Meader, who helmed the Beavers for 27 seasons, said. “He played like a coach.”

Meader was not involved in the decision to hire Leal.

“I tried to stay away from it just because I had so many guys (that played for me) vying for it, but it was a good selection,” Meader said. “He’s somebody who will be there for a while, unless there is something better. 

“He is a very good leader and likable person. I think he is going to do a very nice job

Leal still holds Meader in high regard.

Bates College assistant men’s basketball coach Sam Leal stands behind head coach Jon Furbush as they both watch the Bobcats take on Hamilton College in Lewiston this past season. Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

“He influenced me a lot into being a coach,” Leal said. “The amount of lives and people he’s positively influenced the last 40-plus years of coaching is something to strive for, no doubt.”

Prior to Bates, Leal served as a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team at Springfield College while earning his master’s degree in sport and exercise psychology.

In Leal’s first year, Springfield went 12-2 in conference play, setting a NEWMAC record before advancing to the NCAA DIII National Semifinals. Leal is credited with helping develop the mindset for a winning culture, which served the team well as they advanced deeper in tournament play. He also played a significant role in recruiting major contributors to the team’s continued success this year.

In 2019, he was tabbed to help organize the NABC Division III All-Star Game in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“Sam did a tremendous job for us at Bates,” Bobcats head coach Jon Furbush said. “His passion for the game and commitment to the development of our student-athletes, not just as basketball players but as young men, was an integral part of our success this year. Sam has great energy and positively influences all people he works with.

“While he will be greatly missed, I couldn’t be happier for him to start his own program.  He’ll be a great addition to the UMF athletics department.”

Leal graduated from UMF in 2014 with a teaching degree, specializing in mathematics. He played four years for the Beavers, contributing on and off the court. A stellar student, he earned NAC scholar-athlete recognition multiple times, made the dean’s list and graduated cum laude. He was recognized by his peers with the school’s Beaver Pride Award, and also made the National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court.

Upon graduation, Leal found a spot on the University of Southern Maine’s coaching staff and then went on to teach math for two years at Greely High School while exploring graduate school opportunities.

“I am thrilled Sam Leal has accepted the position as the next men’s basketball coach at UMF. As a former player, he is one of us,” Meader said. “He has the knowledge, leadership ability, and work ethic to be an outstanding coach.”

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