Brady Saunders walked the halls of Brewer Community School days after winning the Class A boys basketball state championship over Falmouth and was swarmed by middle schoolers asking for pictures and autographs.
The next day, Brewer arranged a meet and greet session at the high school for the rest of the community, an event that lasted more than an hour with fans of all ages lining up for signatures and photos with the school’s gold ball.
Saunders is now a local star, the leader of this year’s Witches team and a Mr. Maine Basketball finalist. He averaged 21.2 points per game on an incredibly efficient 53.7 percent from the field. From the 3-point line, Saunders shot 41.3 percent and 90.5 percent from the free throw line. His effective field goal percentage, a number that takes into account all shooting numbers, finished at 63.3 percent, which would be good enough for 14th in the NBA this season.
The 6-foot-2 senior had previously made sure older teammates had gotten their shots and possessions in previous years but learned almost instantly that this season would be different.
“In the first preseason tournament up in Caribou, we were up there playing Caribou the first game and I took the first shot of the season and made it,” Saunders said. “Then I didn’t shoot for a couple minutes after and we called a timeout and Brock [Flagg] said, ‘What the hell just happened? You just made the first shot and you’re not going to shoot after that?’ I look at him and I’m like, ‘All right.’ I shot the next couple and they went in and at that point I said to myself, ‘OK, this is how the season is going to go.’ I am glad Brock said that.”
It was the first time Saunders realized he was going to be the focal point of this team. Previously, he had played with teammates such as Mr. Maine Basketball semifinalists Aaron Newcomb and Colby Smith and he prioritized their games, Brewer coach Ben Goodwin said.
“I think [Saunders] figured it out up north that he was going to lead this team and needed to shoot the ball more and be more aggressive,” Goodwin said. “From there on out it was all Brady Saunders and he really made us go.”
The senior’s tremendous season wouldn’t have been possible without sacrifices of teammates who were used to shooting the ball more.
“This year it felt like my time and I really wanted to show what I could do,” said Saunders, while acknowledging that teammates such as Flagg and Evan Nadeau sacrificed scoring more themselves to get the ball to him.
That sacrifice was made easier due to the friendship of the five senior starters for the Witches this season.
That includes Cam Hughes, the forward who scored the game-winning shot in the title game; Ryder Goodwin, who made the shot before to make it a one-point contest; Mr. Maine semifinalist Flagg; and tough point guard Evan Nadeau.
The starting five knew their roles from the word “go” up in Caribou.
“We hung out all the time,” Saunders said. “Even that summer going into the season, Nadeau and Brock were always together, Ryder and Cam would tag along, it was just amazing. We’d go on car trips, joke around and summer basketball was fun and those memories are something I’ll never forget.”
That camaraderie was crucial to the team’s success.
“I think that was special about our team. We talked about roles and everyone looked to Brady knowing what his role was,” Goodwin said. “His role was to score the ball, defend, and to have a player like that in your program really lifts everyone else. He was a great player but he was also one of the most unselfish players I’ve coached.”
On defense, Saunders was tasked with the toughest assignment night after night. It didn’t matter the size of the player, the senior was ready to guard him.
Saunders tallied 37 steals and nine blocks on the year. He also said he only asked out of one game, and that was during the A North semifinal against Cony when he was chasing KVAC first-team junior Parker Sergent around the court.
“There was a point where we went up and down the court five or six times and I was guarding Parker Sergent and he was so quick on offense that I lost my breath a lot,” Saunders said with a chuckle. “I think I actually asked for a sub and it was my first time asking for one and coach Goodwin looked at me like I was crazy. It is a tough challenge but I’m always up for it.”
Goodwin said that was the only time Saunders asked out, and that he played the majority of each game.
“We talked to him the year before about having him become a good defender,” Goodwin added. “We needed him to guard the best players in the league and he had to get more physical defensively. He started doing the little things, closing out right, boxing out. He didn’t just rely on his athleticism, his basketball IQ started to really show.”
Saunders said it was “super special” to meet all the community members that supported him and the team. Not going to practice the Monday after the state championship was a moment of sad realization that the season was over, but it was a moment no one involved will quickly forget.
“We’ve been celebrating all week and it’s amazing, but I think we’re all sad it’s over,” Saunders said. “Not going to practice on Monday was sad because it sank in that I won’t ever have another Brewer practice again. It was kind of sad, but it’s been a great week and I hope we can continue celebrating it.”