Chris Markwood’s on-campus introduction as the new men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine on Wednesday was part emotional and part motivational.
The 2005 UMaine graduate did all he could to hold back tears when thanking the likes of former UMaine coach Ted Woodward — who gave him his first coaching job — and subsequent head coaches at Vermont, Northeastern and Boston College who mentored Markwood throughout the 16 years as an assistant that led him to this first chance as a Division I head coaching opportunity.
“The friendships and the relationships I’ve built over the years, they’ve made me who I am today,” Markwood said during a press event at the Alfond Lounge on the Orono campus where he was joined by wife and former UMaine women’s basketball player Ashley Underwood Markwood and daughters London and Malia.
“They made me the man that’s standing in front of you guys and it hit me at that moment when I started talking about them.”
Markwood was selected to become the 23rd coach in UMaine men’s basketball history from a pool of 44 candidates who met the standard criteria for the job, according to athletic director Ken Ralph. That pool — which included 17 candidates of color — ultimately was reduced to three finalists who were interviewed.
“As we went through the final look at resumes and as we went through the interviews, Chris just emerged as a great choice,” Ralph said.
“The biggest thing was that nobody in the process convinced us they wanted to be at Maine more than Chris. This meant more to him, this place, these people, this environment. It’s a place he knows, it’s a place he loves, [and] it’s a place that he knows that he’s going to have the support necessary to do the heavy lifting that comes with being a Division I basketball coach.”
The 40-year-old Markwood addressed the challenges of rebuilding a program that hasn’t won a postseason game since his senior year as a player and scored just three victories against Division I competition this past winter.
The immediate task was to meet with the current team later in the day, though much of the 2021-22 roster was in attendance for the half-hour ceremony and were encouraged by what they heard as Markwood described a style of basketball that featured aggressive offense and halfcourt man-to-man defense.
“On both sides of the ball it’s a formula for winning,” Markwood said. “It’s a system that guys really enjoy playing in because not only does it help us win at a high level but it helps develop their skill sets individually throughout their time in college and that in the end is going to help them move on to the next step.”
UMaine has finished either last or next-to-last among America East schools in team offense each of the last five years, never averaging more than 62.4 points per game in any of those seasons.
“I’m excited for this new direction we’re headed in,” said senior guard LeChaun DuHart, who plans to return next year after his 2021-22 season was limited to 13 games due to injury. “As much as I loved the coaches we had, sometimes change is needed, and all I can say at least for myself is I’m excited for what the future holds.”
Markwood also acknowledged the uncertainty players feel when the coaching staff changes, as he either played for or was recruited by four different head coaches during his own college career, which for Maine’s 2000 Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year from South Portland High School began at Notre Dame before concluding at UMaine.
“I want to be here to support them as best as I can to help them through this process,” he said. “There’s probably going to be some guys that still decide to [transfer] and I’ll help them with that, but I want to sit down with them and have a conversation about my vision and my philosophy and see how that matches up with what they’re thinking. I’m very confident those talks will go well.”
The current recruiting season is another initial priority for Markwood, including options that may be available through the NCAA transfer portal as well as the prep and high school ranks.
“I’m coming up here with open arms, I want to embrace people that want to be here,” he said. “Whether that’s the whole team that’s here, that would be amazing, But in terms of taking advantage of the transfer portal, that’s a huge part of the landscape now. Depending on where our roster is — and we’re going to have some discussions and meetings going forward — we’ll make some decisions about looking in the portal. But right now I’m just worried about the guys that are here.”
Markwood also must address prospects who were recruited before his arrival as at least preferred walk-ons with scholarship potential, such as 2022 Mr. Maine Basketball John Shea of Edward Little High School in Auburn and Owen Maloney of South Portland.
“I’ve got to get up to speed on some of that because this happened quickly,” Markwood said. “Anybody they’ve been talking to or that’s committed here on whatever level that is, I want to get on the phone with them right away, share with them my excitement about this school and this program and share the excitement about a Maine kid potentially coming here.
“We definitely want to lock down Maine as best as we can and keep the home talent here, and there’s a lot of good talent coming up the ranks and I’m really excited about working with the guys and the coaches around the state to try to keep those guys here as best as we can.”
Markwood said his initial meeting with the current Black Bears wouldn’t be geared toward ultimate goals, but the winning habits he believes one day could lead the program to an ultimate goal: an America East championship and a first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It’s going to be really hard. It’s going to take a lot of grit, a lot of determination and a very thought-out process, but as long as we have the right people in here, high-character people who want to work and embrace this place and love it as much as I do, I think we’re going to be in great shape.”