MARS HILL, Maine — Manny Martinez was barely into his fourth game in charge of a high school basketball program when he suddenly was confronted by a flashback from his own playing career just a few years removed.
As he studied the action on the court at Fort Fairfield High School that night, the new Easton boys basketball coach witnessed two teams applying much the same approach to the game.
That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since both Martinez and second-year Fort Fairfield coach Logan McLaughlin were former high school teammates at Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
“Before we played Easton this year, I talked with Manny because I played with him in high school, and we kind of played the same way. We both played hard defense and were intense, and I knew he was going to coach like that,” said McLaughlin, who as a 21-year-old rookie head coach guided Fort Fairfield to the 2015 Eastern Maine Class D championship.
“I said, ‘This is going to be interesting to watch because probably both of us are going to do a lot of the same things.’”
What evolved was a battle of wills, with both coaches emphasizing the relentless work ethic they learned while contributing to state championship teams under their high school coach, former Central Aroostook mentor Tim Brewer.
“Our score after the first quarter when we played them was 4-2, so it definitely showed that we had a lot of the same principles,” said Martinez, whose last-second shot to give Central Aroostook a 54-53 victory over Richmond in the 2008 Class D state final remains one of the most memorable shots in Maine’s modern basketball history.
“It was kind of unique, and it was tough at first because he knew what I was doing and I knew everything he was doing,” he said.
Easton outlasted the Tigers 49-46 in overtime, and the Bears have gone on to earn the No. 1 seed in Class D for the first time since 1980 with a 16-2 record.
No doubt the defensive nature of that game was pleasing to Brewer, who guided Central Aroostook to four state championships and five Eastern Maine Class D titles over 15 years before stepping down as head coach at his alma mater after last season.
But while Brewer won’t be bringing his own team to Bangor for this year’s tournament, he’s being well represented in postseason play.
Not only will Martinez and McLaughlin be on the Cross Insurance Center sidelines guiding their teams during Tourney Week 2016, they are joined in the playoff coaching ranks by two players from Brewer’s first state championship team as a coach in 2005.
Bryan Shaw guided the Easton girls team to a preliminary-round berth in Class D North this week before being ousted by Wisdom of Saint Agatha, while Jason Woodworth — Brewer’s former assistant coach and successor at Central Aroostook — has the Panthers’ boys squad back in the big show.
The four coaches have a combined 42-26 record this winter — not quite Brewer’s career mark of 251-64 but a respectable effort for a young quartet with an average age of 26.5 and a combined six seasons of varsity coaching experience.
“We’re sprinkled all around, and it’s really fascinating to see Manny come in and having success, Jason Woodworth come up through the ranks in Mars Hill, and Logan do so well in Fort Fairfield,” said the 29-year-old Shaw, in his second season as the girls head coach at Easton. “It’s neat to see, and I think it’s that we all love the game and we love to see it played at the level we played it or at least at the level we’ve seen it played.
“That’s where Tim Brewer put his hand on it,” he said.
Two key fundamentals
While all four branches of Brewer’s coaching tree have personalized their coaching philosophies based on their own experiences as well as the talent they have available, much of what has led to their early success on the bench is founded in two key fundamentals they learned from their coach.
First and foremost is a strong work ethic.
“We all emphasize hard work from our guys from the opening tip to the end of the game and don’t accept anything less,” said Woodworth, who coached under Brewer for five seasons before being promoted to the varsity post. “So I know when we play [Easton and Fort Fairfield], we’re always in for a dog fight.”
That work ethic and the resulting physical conditioning allows those teams to play fast-paced offense and relentless defense, the latter an area of the game Brewer came to prioritize more and more as his coaching career progressed.
This season the Easton boys have yielded an average of 39.6 points per game while Fort Fairfield (42.1 ppg allowed) and Central Aroostook (45.7) have been nearly as stingy.
“Hard work and defense really will keep you in a lot of games,” said McLaughlin, who played on state championship teams at Central Aroostook as a freshman in 2008 and as a senior in 2011.
“If you’re struggling offensively, it’s still going to give you a chance to win, and if you do end up losing and you worked hard the whole game, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of because you left everything you had on the court.”
Rivals on the court
Clashes of those common coaching denominators have been repeated frequently among the rival boys teams already this winter, with Easton and Fort Fairfield — the No. 2 team in Class C North at 14-4 — splitting their two games while each scored a pair of wins over Central Aroostook, at 10-8 the No. 6 seed in Class D North after a three-win finish in 2015.
Those meetings have been a source of great inspiration for Brewer’s young coaching offspring, perhaps particularly for Martinez, whose experience on the sidelines before this winter was limited to helping out at the youth level.
But time spent growing up amid the Central Aroostook basketball environment, from “Morning Basketball” pickup games that have been a foundational aspect of the program for generations to Brewer’s determined influence, has provided the 26-year-old coach a reservoir of knowledge from which to build.
“Coach Brewer definitely gives me a good example to draw from as I’m coaching,” said Martinez. “There’s a lot of times when the kids I have are in certain situations, and I know what they need to do because of what my coach taught me when I had to go through it. He is a big influence on a lot of things I do as a coach.
“Obviously I’ve put my own personality into it, but I use a lot of the same principles,” he said.
That’s really no different from his Brewer tree coaching brethren.
“I think we’ve all got a little bit of Tim in us, and with all the success Tim had, why wouldn’t we do some of the same things he did?” said Woodworth, 29.
All four coaches appreciate how Brewer’s coaching principles not only helped them experience that state championship feeling during their playing days, but continue to influence them today both on and off the court.
“We had a lot of fun playing for Tim,” said McLaughlin, “and all his players respected him because you could guarantee he was going to show up for every practice and give it all he had to us to put us in the best position to win.
“I think it made us all want to give back, to give some other kids the chance to experience what we did.”