ORONO — Pete Babcock’s dream was to make it to the National Basketball Association.
While he admittedly didn’t have the physical skills to play at that level, his knowledge of the game, inner drive and polished communication skills have made him a fixture in the NBA for more than 30 years.
Babcock, who was born in Bangor, is a scout for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monday afternoon, he visited the University of Maine campus to watch the Black Bear men’s basketball team.
Though neither Babcock nor UMaine coach Ted Woodward would disclose which player was the subject of the visit, the likely candidate is Gerald McLemore.
The junior guard from San Diego, who earned All-America East first-team recognition last season, is the Bears’ most prolific scorer. He averaged a team-high 14.6 points per game last season and ranked fourth in the conference while shooting 40 percent (102-for-256) from 3-point range.
UMaine has nine draft-eligible players on this year’s squad, including four seniors. Besides McLemore, only forward Sean McNally of Gardiner has been an All-AE pick (third team last season).
After practice, Woodward introduced Babcock to the team and invited him to say a few words. Babcock pointed out that each year, among 8,000 good high school players, about 2,000 earn a Division I scholarship. From that group, 60 are drafted by an NBA team — including international players.
Only 35 or so last one year in the NBA and only eight of them will eventually become recognized, big-name players.
The final number? One-tenth of one percent.
“I’m a realist. I’ve heard that my whole life,” the poised McLemore said when asked if he was impacted by those statistics.
It is rare for a UMaine men’s player to draw a scout to Orono. The last Black Bear drafted by an NBA team was center Jeff Cross (Dallas Mavericks), the league player of the year, in 1984. Guard Rufus Harris was taken by the Boston Celtics in 1980 after forward Roger Lapham went to Milwaukee in 1979. Cross did play in the NBA for the San Diego Clippers while Harris and Lapham didn’t make the cut.
Rick Carlisle, who played at Maine from 1979-81 before transferring to Virginia, also went on to play in the NBA for the Boston Celtics and is now the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks.
Babcock, 61, spoke about the possibility for every player to maximize his potential in life by going after what he wanted and maintaining a positive mindset.
“I figured out that if I could outwork everybody else, I could have some success,” he said.
Another theme of Babcock’s talk extolled the benefits of visualization in aiding success whether on or off the court. He indicated positive thoughts often result in positive actions.
“You have to train to mind to be successful in every little thing you do. That really stuck with me,” McLemore said when asked what what he gleaned from the talk.
Babcock watched silently Monday as Woodward put his squad through a grueling, two-hour workout in Memorial Gym that featured plenty of intensity and competition. He said his visit was both professional and personal.
Babcock lives most of the year in Newport, R.I., with his wife Yo. While in the Bangor area, he visited two cousins who live on Pushaw Lake and planned Monday night to have dinner with former Bangor High and Husson University football coach Jonathan “Gabby” Price and his wife Mary (Speirs).
Babcock’s parents lived on Forest Avenue in Bangor and were friends of Mary Price’s parents, the late Robinson Speirs and his wife Elizabeth.
While he lived in Bangor for only two years, at which point his father was transferred by the Air Force, Babcock said he returned to Bangor annually as a youngster to visit his grandparents and his cousins. His parents both graduated from UMaine.
Babcock graduated from Arizona State University in 1971. He got his break in the NBA after compiling tapes of league teams and providing feedback to the general managers.
While teaching history and coaching high school basketball, football and track in Phoenix, he offered to work as a volunteer NBA scout. The former New Orleans Jazz agreed to utilize his services.
Babcock eventually became a part-time, regional scout and eventually worked with three organizations before he was hired as the vice president of basketball operations for the San Diego Clippers in 1980.
He later served as the president and general manager and was a minority partner with the Denver Nuggets (1984-90). He then was VP and GM with the Atlanta Hawks (1990-2003) and served as the director of NBA player personnel for the Toronto Raptors (2004-06) before joining Cleveland as a scout in 2006.
Babcock, a renowned motivational speaker, said scouting provides him the flexibility to stay involved with the game, including evaluating talent at Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference games. He spends three winter months in Atlanta, where he is able to spend time with his two grandchildren.
Babcock will be doing more scouting this fall in the Northeast at schools such as Boston College, Connecticut and Boston University. He explained that sometime around Christmas, Cavaliers scouts will submit their short lists of the players they think should be seriously considered for next year’s NBA draft.