Zach Gipin, who played with Bentley University, drives the baseline during a 2018 game. Credit: SportsPix

The golf course not only is a place to relax, but for former Hampden Academy basketball player Zach Gilpin it also provided a pathway to his re-introduction to his favorite sport as a coach.

Gilpin, the 2014 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist and first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine forward who led the Broncos to three Eastern Maine Class A championships and the 2013 state crown, is a volunteer assistant at his alma mater under veteran head coach Russ Bartlett.

It was their conversation on the golf course that led to Gilpin joining the coaching ranks, beginning last season with Hampden’s 7th- and 8th-grade travel team.

“He didn’t ask me about coaching but he asked if I was interested in getting back into basketball right away,” Gilpin said.

He had just graduated from Bentley University, where he averaged 9.3 points and 3.9 rebounds in 94 games (57 starts) over four years with the NCAA Division II Falcons. “At the time I told him I wanted to take a year off because I had been so full-steam-ahead with basketball for so long.

“A couple of weeks later he called me and told me that the Hampden 7th- and 8th-grade travel basketball team, the ‘B’ team, didn’t have anybody that wanted to coach, so I said I’d do that,” he said.

Another conversation last summer led Gilpin, who works in the commercial lending department at First National Bank in Bangor, to continue coaching this winter both at the high school level and with Hampden’s 8th-grade travel squad.

“I told him I’d love to be involved in any type of volunteer way if he’d have me, and it’s been a great experience so far,” Gilpin said.

This is a rare rebuilding season for defending Class A state champion Hampden Academy. It graduated 2020 Mr. Maine Basketball Bryce Lausier and starting forward Mikey Raye, while senior guard Andy Raye opted not to return and senior forward Brayden Cole transferred to the Hyde School in Bath.

With the regular season reduced to 12 regionalized games and the tournament canceled due to the coronavirus, this may be an even greater educational experience for players and coaches alike.

“I’m really enjoying learning from coach Bartlett right now,” Gilpin said. “He was a big part of my life in high school on the basketball side and with family stuff. I really enjoy being around him from the basketball aspect as well as the relationship aspect, so I would like to continue what I’m doing with being a volunteer assistant.”

Bartlett sees multidimensional value in having Gilpin join his coaching staff, especially this year.

“He has been through the battles, he’d dealt with loss, and he’s turned into a great man,” Bartlett said. “Anything he has to say in practice will benefit these kids long term. When it comes right down to it, that is why we coach.”

Perhaps it isn’t a surprise that Gilpin had made his way to the sidelines. His parents, the late Peter Gilpin and Carol Gilpin, a former 1,000-point scorer at the University of Maine at Farmington, coached his travel teams from grades 3 through 7.

Through those early days and his years of playing under Bartlett, Whit Lesure for a prep year at Bridgton Academy and Jay Lawson at Bentley, Gilpin developed his own vision of a successful basketball formula.

“That’s the way I think it should be played, five people working together as one to either get a good team shot, a rebound or a defensive stop with everybody on the bench cheering them on,” Gilpin said.

He believes lessons in the sport transcend any particular game night.

“Basketball has been such a big part of my life and it gave me so many positives off the court, that’s something that I’d like to help the current team understand,” he said.

While Gilpin’s professional focus is on his career at First National Bank, he doesn’t rule out a greater commitment to coaching at some point.

“Growing up I knew how much I loved basketball, but when you’re a player the thought of your career ending always seems so far away. Now that my career has ended, I’m really enjoying continuing to be involved in basketball,” he said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...