ROCKLAND, Maine — Midway through Oceanside High School’s run to the Class A North boys basketball championship last week, Nick Mazurek resorted to an old-school staple of the sport rarely seen in today’s age of 3-point bombardment.
First he took one dribble toward the right baseline and lofted a right-handed hook shot. Moments later, he moved in the opposite direction and shot a left-handed hook from the middle of the lane.
“That’s my favorite shot,” the Mariners’ 6-foot-3 senior center said. “I work on it all the time.”
That Mazurek finds tools for his game in its history stems in great part from his unique access to earlier traditions.
His father, Rich Mazurek, helped the former Rockland District High School win the 1989 Class B baseball state title and led the Tigers to back-to-back Eastern Maine basketball championships in 1989 and 1990 before going on to Husson University in Bangor, where he scored more than 1,500 points while helping the school’s basketball team twice qualify for the NAIA Division I championships.
His grandfather Ed Mazurek played center for his high school basketball team in Stamford, Connecticut, but was better known for football and baseball.
In baseball, he played on the 1951 Little League World Series champion Stamford all-stars and three years later was part of that city’s Babe Ruth World Series championship team.
In football, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tackle played collegiately at Xavier of Ohio and was drafted in 1960 by three different professional teams, the Boston Patriots (American Football League), the Montreal Alouettes (Canadian Football League) and the Chicago Cardinals (National Football League).
Ed signed with the Cardinals, which then moved to St. Louis, and was traded to the New York Giants midway through the 1960 season, where he finished out the year before retiring to pursue what became a long career as a social studies teacher and football coach, which led to his move from southern New England to Rockland in 1975.
“My grandfather was just incredible in everything he did, and my dad was, too,” Nick said. “I think it helps that me and my dad both had our fathers to help us get where we are.”
For his part, Nick Mazurek twice has been an individual golf state co-champion for Oceanside, and he has pitched his way to a baseball scholarship from Division II Southern New Hampshire University beginning next fall.
In basketball, the third-year starter has returned to the Oceanside lineup from a broken foot in time to help the Mariners secure their first regional championship and a date Saturday against Falmouth in the state final at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
While Mazurek’s high school coaches have been integral to his athletic success, perhaps even more pivotal has been the input of his father and grandfather.
“I’ve never had a problem taking advice from them because I know they’re right,” he said. “There are some people you hear from and you think, ‘They’re probably not right, so I’ll just do my own thing.’ But with these two I definitely know they know what they’re talking about. They’ve been through it for a long time.”
Grandfather and father
The father-son and coach-player relationships between Ed and Rich Mazurek and now Rich and Nick Mazurek have different qualities that can be traced in part to generational changes in youth sports and the evolving parental involvement in those programs.
While Rich Mazurek was growing up during the mid- and late-1980s, his father was the head football coach at Rockland High.
“I was the manager of his football teams when I was little, so I was always in the locker room, and my dad was always known for the pregame speech,” Rich said. “I can remember when I was 5 or 6 years old, listening to him give those pregame speeches to his high school kids.
“They would come out of that locker room like a pack of crazed animals. He would have them so fired up, but the message was always that nothing’s going to be given to you — you’ve got to work, work, work.”
Ed Mazurek’s presence as a varsity coach in the community meant others coached the younger athletes, including his son.
“My wife [MaryEllen] and I just supported whatever sports Rich was playing,” said the 77-year-old Ed Mazurek, who later served as Rockland’s mayor as well as a four-term state representative and one-term state senator before retiring from politics in 2014.
“We never told him he had to play baseball, we never told him he had to play football, we never told him he had to play basketball. That was his choice. And once he chose his sports, we just made sure he was committed to them and did the best he could.”
That remained true throughout Rich’s high school career, including in basketball, where he helped Rockland win its first two regional titles and and earned first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine accolades as a senior.
“I never talked to Rich about the games,” Ed said. “He had a coach, Chris Elkington, and he ran a very tight ship. He did things his way and all the kids respected him, so I just respected Chris’ wishes and he handled the kids. I thought he did a great job with them.”
Father and son
The coach-player bond between Rich and Nick Mazurek began on the golf course.
“I remember when I was 3 or 4 years old, hitting golf balls at the range with my dad,” Nick said. “We have videos of playing baseball at the house, and I remember playing basketball and dunking on the little hoop when I was 2 years old.”
Rich and his wife, Jennifer, became active with the Rockland Little League, and he went on to coach his son in basketball and baseball, with their Little League baseball teams twice advancing to the state championships.
It was Rich Mazurek, a 44-percent 3-point shooter while playing at Husson from 1990 to 1994, who taught Nick the hook shot he used at the Augusta Civic Center last week in preparation for a peewee championship game against a team led by Oceanside point guard Keenan Hendricks, who was taller than the young Mazurek at the time.
“We had a week before the game, so we went out in the driveway and I said to Nick, ‘I’m going to teach you a shot that’s going to win this championship game because Keenan blocks a lot of shots and I’m going to teach you an unblockable shot,” Rich said. “Don’t ever forget it, because if you do it right no matter how tall someone is against you, you’ll be able to get this shot off.
“We taught it to him,” he said. “We won the game, and he’s never forgotten the shot.”
Rich Mazurek doesn’t officially coach his son anymore, but his presence at basketball games remains vital to Nick’s success.
“I hear two people when I play no matter how loud it gets,” Nick said. “I hear the head coach [Matt Breen] and I hear my dad. Every possession [last week] I heard them, and even if it’s one little thing they’re saying it can turn the whole game around for me.”
In an age when a teenager’s acceptance of a parent’s advice is far from guaranteed, Nick Mazurek readily awaits feedback from his father and grandfather.
“It can be an array of things, whatever is going wrong at the time,” Nick said. “But a lot of it is the head game, staying calm and staying cool: That’s what my dad’s taught me the most. He’s helped me with things on basketball court, my moves or certain things to make my instincts better, but at the end of the day he’s helped me keep my head on straight because that was always my worst problem but as I got to high school we worked hard and it got a lot better.
“And even my grandfather — he’ll watch a game and see something that we missed, so we all work together.”
All the Mazureks will be in Portland as Oceanside goes for the gold ball Saturday. And while Nick has worked on his physical preparation for the game at school this week, familial resources will help him gear up for the mental side of the state championship game experience.
“I’m definitely going to ask my dad about that huge moment when we first step on the court and how long it will take to get my feet under me because he knows that, he’s done it twice,” Nick said. “He’ll also tell me about things he remembers that he might have struggled with, so it will help me get through them without struggling.”
And no doubt, once the whistle blows and the game begins, at least one voice in the crowd will be there to offer support and perhaps some occasional advice.
“I remember there was one game when I wasn’t really saying much in the crowd, and he finally said, ‘C’mon, I really need to hear your voice,’” Rich said.
“Nick’s grown up listening so much and he takes it and never gets angry, he’s really receptive to whatever it is. Most of the time I have a valid point — occasionally I’m wrong — but it’s been a good combination.”
On that count, the next generation is in full agreement.
“I’m just glad we’re able to be so close and be able to talk about stuff like games and sports without arguing or getting into a big dispute,” Nick said. “I don’t mind listening to what my father and grandfather have to say, and I’m fortunate to have a relationship with both well enough to talk with them with no problem. I’m really lucky.”