Chris Markwood, the new men’s basketball head coach at the University of Maine, works with players during a practice in Orono in late October. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

ORONO — Chris Markwood has fans throughout the college basketball coaching profession. He’s more concerned with making University of Maine basketball fans believers, too.

“It’s our job to get this program to the point where people want to come and support it,” said Markwood, 40, the first-year coach of a UMaine men’s basketball team that has struggled for more than a decade.

“If we do that, I know they’re going to come support us. We can’t ask them to come yet and not put out a product they can be proud of and want to cheer.”

A 2000 graduate of South Portland High, Markwood was Maine’s Mr. Basketball as a senior before playing in college as a point guard, first at Notre Dame, then at UMaine. A former captain of team he now coaches, Markwood is trying to take the Black Bears someplace they’ve never been: the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It won’t be an easy task. Last season, the Black Bears went 6-22, with just three wins coming against NCAA Division I opponents. It was Maine’s 12th consecutive season with a losing record. The Black Bears, who open the 2022-23 season Monday night at the University of Nebraska, have not won an American East Conference tournament game since 2005, Markwood’s senior season.

The men’s team plays in the shadow of the successful UMaine women’s basketball team, which averaged 1,032 fans for its home games last season, nearly double the men’s attendance (590). The women’s team has made six consecutive trips to the conference finals and two appearances in the NCAA tournament during that stretch.


Markwood, who signed a four-year contract that will pay him $165,000 during his first season, served for 16 years as an assistant coach – first at UMaine, then the University of Vermont, Northeastern and, last season, Boston College.

Three of his former bosses – head coaches who have taken teams to the NCAA tournament – believe he’s the right man to turn things around in Orono. They describe him as a talented recruiter and a coach adept at X’s and O’s, developing strong guards and building relationships with players. 

Chris Markwood was a captain on the University of Maine men’s basketball team in 2004-05. He later served as an assistant coach with the team for five years. John Ewing/Portland Press Herald file photo

Markwood was on John Becker’s staff at Vermont for three seasons, including in 2012, when the Catamounts reached the NCAA tournament. Becker said Markwood’s recruiting was key to the program’s success. One player Markwood recruited to Vermont was point guard Trae Bell-Haynes, who was named America East Player of the Year in 2017 and 2018.

“The thing with Chris is, he has an incredible eye in evaluating talent, and at this level (mid-major) that’s really, really important,” Becker said.

Northeastern Coach Bill Coen had Markwood on his staff for seven years, a stretch that included two trips to the NCAA tournament.

“He was a head coach in waiting. You could just see it,” Coen said. “Calling him an assistant coach was more of a misnomer. He was more of a partner.”


Boston College Coach Earl Grant hired Markwood as an assistant coach last season because of his strong recruiting ties in the Northeast. He was impressed with Markwood’s calm sideline demeanor during tight games.

“He’s going to elevate Maine’s players,” Grant said. “He’s going to get some good players some people don’t think they should get (at Maine).”


Markwood spent much of his youth living on Peaks Island  before moving in junior high to Ortonville, Minnesota, where his mother, Alison Jacobs, became pastor of a church. The family came back to Maine, settling in South Portland, shortly before the start of the basketball season during Markwood’s freshman year of high school.

At the time, few freshmen or sophomores made the varsity boys’ basketball team at South Portland High. Markwood began his freshman season playing in freshman and junior varsity games. But Tony DiBiase, the coach at the time, saw how well Markwood shot the ball, and knew his varsity team was missing that perimeter scoring threat. DiBiase held a meeting with his seniors and explained that he was promoting Markwood to varsity, and how he could help the team.

“They all said, ‘Finally!'” DiBiase recalled.


Chris Markwood was a 1,000-point scorer at South Portland High and won Mr. Maine Basketball honors as a senior. Portland Press Herald file photo, 1999

Markwood became an integral piece of the Red Riots almost immediately. In the quarterfinals of the Class A West tournament, he sank an 8-foot baseline jumper with seven seconds left to give South Portland a 51-49 win over Kennebunk.

“I remember that shot as if it was yesterday. That was his coming-out party,” said Matt DiBiase, Tony’s son and Markwood’s friend and high school teammate.

A 1,000-point scorer and Maine’s Mr. Basketball in 2000, Markwood committed to play at Notre Dame for Coach Matt Doherty, who left to coach his alma mater North Carolina before Markwood arrived on campus. Markwood said he liked playing for Mike Brey, Doherty’s replacement, but after two seasons at Notre Dame he transferred to Maine to play at home, where he’d be more than a role player.

“I made that hard decision,” Markwood said. “I was crying the whole time through it. Coach Brey was tremendous. He didn’t want me to leave, but he helped me.”

Markwood averaged just under eight points and four assists per game as a senior at Maine, and joined coach Ted Woodward’s coaching staff after graduating in 2005. He stayed at his alma mater until 2011, when he joined Becker at Vermont.

His goal is to find Maine high schoolers with the talent to play NCAA Division I basketball and who want to stay home. This year’s roster carries just two Mainers, freshmen Owen Maloney of South Portland and John Shea of Auburn. Last season, there were none. In 2020-21, there were four, all freshmen or sophomores, and all no longer with the program.


In recent seasons, some of the top high school players in the state have opted to play elsewhere. South Portland’s JP Estrella recently committed to the University of Tennessee. Dom Campbell, a Scarborough native who played at Waynflete, is a freshman at Notre Dame. There’s already a fierce recruiting battle for Cooper and Ace Flagg, who left Nokomis High this year for Montverde Academy in Florida.

“Everybody asks me about recruiting Maine kids,” Markwood said. “One, it’s going to be a priority. Two, to make this a destination for guys, we have to do our jobs. We can’t just sit here and say, every Maine kid should go to Maine. We’ve got to put a product out there that’s attractive to student athletes in the state of Maine.”

“It’s natural for some kids to say, ‘I’ve lived here my whole life, I want to get away.’ Just as it’s natural for a lot of guys to say, ‘I love Maine. I want to wear those five letters across my chest and represent the state to the best of my ability at the highest level.'”

University of Maine Black Bears basketball Chris Markwood takes over a University of Maine basketball program that has had a .204 winning percent since the start of the 2014-15 season. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Maloney said playing for a fellow South Portland alum and helping build the program was a selling point. Maloney met Markwood a few years ago, when Red Riots basketball Coach Kevin Millington brought in alumni to talk to the team during the 2020-21 season shortened by the pandemic.

“It means more to people from Maine. We’ve seen the program struggle for the last couple of years. Getting Maine basketball back on the map and showing what Maine basketball is like,” Maloney said.



LeChaun DuHart, a senior guard and one of Maine’s top returning players, has noticed a difference playing under Markwood.

“He’s given us trust to kind of play freely and do the right thing,” he said. “You see it in practice, our competitiveness. The speed of the practice, the flow of the practice, the energy is just a lot higher.”

Fifth-year senior Gedi Juozapaitis, a 6-foot-4 guard from London, is one of two transfers Markwood brought in this season, along with sophomore guard Kellen Tynes. Juozapaitis said Markwood’s greatest asset as a coach is he’s genuine.

“For me, in a coach that’s one of the key things. Players will sniff it out if you’re not authentic. If coach cares for you, I’ll play for you. I’ll run through a wall for you,” Juozapaitis said.

Right now, Markwood’s focus is on building the foundation.

“Progress for us in the first phase is building habits, winning habits. We do that, you’ll see the results follow,” he said after a recent practice. “You’ve got to produce. That’s what athletics are. I don’t want to put the onus on anyone but us. Own that, so that we can win basketball games.”

Sports Illustrated recently ranked Maine 346th among the nation’s 363 NCAA Division I men’s basketball teams. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Maine’s record is 46-179, a .204 winning percentage. Does Markwood think he’s taken on the toughest rebuild in college basketball?

“I know a lot of people are saying that,” he said. “Anytime you rebuild, it’s hard.”

“I knew what I got myself into taking this job. I know what this place can be. I know how special it is. That’s what I’m going to focus on. That’s what I’m putting my attention on. That’s what we’re going to talk about.”

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