Just because Cooper and Ace Flagg left Nokomis and J.P. Estrella left South Portland doesn’t mean that Maine high school basketball won’t still be great this winter.
If you’ve been a fan of Maine high school basketball in the past, I promise it’ll be fun again.
Not every game is like the playoff games played by Nokomis in which fans were parking across the street in the Walmart parking lot to pack into the Augusta Civic Center to watch the freshman phenoms.
And not every state game will have four-star Tennessee-commit J.P. Estrella taking down Oxford Hills to win the Class AA boys title, just after five-star Cooper Flagg and the Warriors beat Falmouth.
But you know what? Every game doesn’t have to be. We’re moving on. We’re also jumping back to before Maine had two once-in-a-generation prospects. Maine doesn’t normally get high-major basketball prospects and yet it’s consistently enjoyable.
At Edward Little High School last year, the Red Eddies hosted the Lewiston Blue Devils in the final regular season game of the season and both sides of the stands were packed, with dozens standing on or in front of the stage and police spread out around the gym.
Both teams were at the top of the Class AA North standings along with Oxford Hills, adding drama to the showdown — as if the rivalry game needed any more.
It was intense, it was physical, the gym was loud and a couple people were escorted out. It was everything you want for an atmosphere if you’re a player: Competing against your cross-river rival in the midst of ear-deafening chants from your friends, family and community members.
It was awesome to be a part of. Edward Little won in double overtime, etching itself in the memory banks of everyone in the Edward Little gym that night.
Fans of Maine high school basketball can differentiate from last year’s unique season. It was a one-off season of excitement right when we needed it after COVID-19 made the 2020 season much smaller and overall worse.
This year will look a lot more like seasons in the past where family and friends will sit in the stands of regular season games and cheer on their teams. The players still have rivalries with other schools, but many players know competitors on other teams well due to AAU teams. It’s still really fun basketball.
And this year’s playoffs will still be fun, too. The Flaggs are gone, but Nokomis still should be a good team in A North. Brewer, the only team to hand the Warriors a loss last season, returns much of its team and wants revenge.
On top of that, Skowhegan was picked to finish first with seven first-place votes in the A North coach’s poll. You don’t think that will start drama? Brewer’s Evan Nadeau responded to the poll on Twitter with an emoji of a hand writing a note, as if to say the Witches have taken note of what they perceive as disrespect.
In Class AA, you get to watch incredible guards at Cheverus and at Portland, while at Oxford Hills you can watch 6-foot-7 Teigan Pelletier, who hit the game-winner against Edward Little last year in the AA North final.
Class B is headlined by Ellsworth, who went 22-0 before losing to Yarmouth in the title game last year. Chance Mercier is worth the price of admission.
I can’t wait for what this season will bring. One of my favorite memories of any playoff game was in 2019 when Caribou beat Cape Elizabeth in double overtime to win the Class B state title, its first in 50 years.
The reason I have such fond memories of it was the fact that it seemed like all of Caribou made the trip down to Portland to celebrate its high school athletes. The noise level was insane and the energy in the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland was high.
There’s nothing like Maine high school basketball, and I promise you, this year will be as exciting as those in the past. Real fans know.
See you at a gym this winter.