Chris Markwood is pictured in this undated photo during his tenure as an assistant coach for the Boston College men's basketball team. Credit: Credit: Courtesy of Boston College

It wasn’t long after Chris Markwood picked up his first basketball that he envisioned himself as a Division I head coach one day.

“That’s always been the goal,” said Markwood, who on Monday was named the 23rd men’s basketball head coach at his alma mater, the University of Maine. “I knew at a pretty young age, really in high school after growing up playing the game since I was 5 and then really after getting serious about it in middle school.

“I just always had a love for learning and watching the game.”

The self-described gym rat went on to become the state’s best high school player in his class, earning both the Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Maine Player of the Year awards in 2000 as a senior at South Portland High School.

But those who scouted him, including former University of Maine coach Ted Woodward, saw not only the basketball talent that landed him a scholarship from Notre Dame but the acumen and drive that has led to his hiring at UMaine being described as a “home run” by such other Markwood mentors as head coaches Bill Coen of Northeastern and John Becker of Vermont.

“When he was in high school we had a chance to watch him play quite a bit before he went to Notre Dame,” said Woodward, now an associate athletic director at the University of Connecticut. “Even then you knew Chris had a very high basketball IQ, was very smart about the game and had great leadership qualities.”

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Markwood brought those traits back to his home state when he transferred to UMaine after two years at Notre Dame, and he eventually helped the Black Bears reach the 2004 America East championship game.

A year later Woodward was promoted from assistant coach to lead the Black Bears after Dr. John Giannini left for a similar post at LaSalle.

“He was my first captain, and we had a lot of trust in Chris,” Woodward said. “He was our point guard, he was the leader of our basketball team and he kept everybody together. We certainly had some guys who were very good players but Chris was the middle guy.”

UMaine started the 2004-05 season with a 7-4 record before Markwood was sidelined with a broken wrist.

“You could see the impact from a talent standpoint but as much as anything from just a leadership standpoint and what he meant to our basketball team,” Woodward said.

“When he came back at the end of that year after having the surgery and a couple of other injuries in February, he fought through them and the team rallied around him. You could see the leadership he brought back to take us into the postseason.”

That on-court leadership included hitting a big shot to lift the Black Bears to victory over Boston University in the America East quarterfinals. UMaine has not won a single conference postseason game since then.

“We lost the next game to a very good Northeastern team,” Woodward said, “but you could see the value that Chris meant to our team from a playing standpoint and from a leadership standpoint.”

That lingering respect led Woodward to offer Markwood his first coaching job a year later.

“When that opportunity came up I remember sitting with Chris in a diner in Portland thinking, ‘This is a good opportunity for you,’” Woodward said. “I had a couple of experienced assistant coaches on my staff, but I knew Chris’ basketball IQ, I knew his leadership, I knew how he could relate to everyone on our basketball team and how much he was liked. I thought he had a very bright future.”

Markwood’s impact on UMaine’s program was immediate and continued through his five seasons on Woodward’s staff as he quickly gained a reputation as a strong recruiter and strategist as well as a relatable presence on the bench.

“I remember him going to one of my home games at Edward Little my senior year to watch me play,” said Troy Barnies, the state’s 2007 Mr. Basketball who became a two-time All-America East forward at UMaine and has played professionally for the last 11 years overseas. “He was one of the main guys to speak with me about going to Maine and it was very easy for me to relate to him not only on the court but off.”

Barnies’ time at UMaine coincided with a solid run by the Black Bears, who finished third in the 2010 and 2011 America East regular-season standings.

“Coach Markwood was a standout coach at UMaine while I was there,” Barnies said. “He got the players’ respect as a coach and was also one of the guys we could talk to about literally anything we needed. One thing I really got from my time with him was his focus on details and how he could relay that to the players.”

Markwood left UMaine after the 2011 season to begin a three-year stint under Becker at the University of Vermont. That was followed by seven years at Northeastern under Coen, who promoted him to associate head coach in 2018.

Markwood was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s top assistant coach in 2020.

“Coach Coen is a big-time mentor for me,” Markwood said. “I was with him for seven years as an assistant coach and that seven-year period was when I took the biggest jump in terms of learning the game, growing as an assistant coach and preparing to be a head coach.”

Markwood moved to the upper reaches of Division I this season at Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference before UMaine came calling again, this time with current athletic director Ken Ralph offering him his first head coaching job.

“Fortunately for me coach Woodward asked me to come back really quickly after my college career, and it took off from there,” Markwood said. “Through the Lord’s grace I’ve been blessed to be at some amazing institutions working for some great college coaches, in my opinion some of the best coaches in this region and in the country.”

Those mentors are among those most confident Markwood will achieve the same success with  his own program as he had while helping others.

“Chris has a brilliant basketball mind, a sharp eye for talent, an incredible work ethic and is an outstanding relationship builder,” said Coen on social media. “Players are going to love playing for him, and he will be a remarkable ambassador for the university.

“His New England coaching background and his native Maine roots uniquely qualify him for this terrific opportunity.”

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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...