This year 26 high school boys and girls reached the 1,000-point landmark.
In this Feb. 20, 2023, file photo, Jonesport-Beals senior Damon Beal makes his 1,000th point of his career in the second half of the Class D boys quarterfinal game against Southern Aroostook at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Scoring 1,000 points is regarded as an important milestone that exemplifies a strong basketball player, and it’s not one that many get to reach. Many greats who have played in Maine high school gyms didn’t accomplish the feat for one reason or another.

Average 250 points per season for four years, or 14 points per game over an 18-game regular season, and you’ll reach it. There are some who start playing varsity basketball as middle-schoolers, while others don’t play significant varsity minutes until their sophomore or junior year.

But the number of Maine high-schoolers who reach the milestone seems to be increasing. There were 19 boys and girls basketball players to reach it during the 2021-22 season, while this year 26 players reached the landmark. And the reason, according to coaches throughout the state, largely has to do with how the game has evolved.

The best players are putting in more work in the offseason, as athletes specialize earlier in their careers. There’s a focus on basketball for many of the great players in Maine and when the high school season ends, they’re in the gym with trainers, with AAU and travel teams, or working on their craft themselves.

“I think the training the kids do in the offseason certainly contributes to it,” Southern Aroostook girls basketball coach Cliff Urquhart said. “I don’t think many go see trainers to play stellar defense, they do it to put the ball in the basket. I think the individual player is better and more skilled.”

Mike Gray, Gardiner’s girls basketball coach, said the training for top players begins before they even reach high school.

“Kids are coming to high school having put in so much time,” Gray said. “Those top kids already have so much experience either training or playing, coming in more ready to help right away. One thousand points is a lot, you almost have to jump in and be able to play right away.”

Peter Austin, Ellsworth’s boys basketball coach who has had Jackson and Hunter Curtis score 1,000 points recently, as well as Chance Mercier this year, has seen the work first hand. Mercier is “one of the hardest workers” Austin has had as a coach and the junior is constantly asking to get in the gym.

“He’s a gym rat,” Austin said of Mercier. “Yesterday he was asking me, ‘If school gets canceled can I still get in the gym?’ I said, ‘Well, as long as the roads aren’t too bad.’”

Part of the work athletes are putting in the gym is to become better scorers at the rim, in the mid-range area and from behind the 3-point line, which was introduced in Maine high school basketball in the 1987-88 season.

Take Jason Reynolds of Winslow, a senior who reached 1,000 points earlier this season. Part of his offseason heading into this year was focused on gaining muscle and working on his shot.

“He’s a 3-point shooter and offensive rebounder, and also a free-throw shooter,” Winslow boys basketball coach Ken Lindlof said. “He goes inside, gets to the line and he is also a threat from three. He scores three different ways.”

The 6-foot-4 forward gained “15 or 20 pounds” and became an “outstanding” shooter for Winslow and consistently has put up stat lines of 30-plus points and double-digit rebounds. The added strength helped him around the hoop while his shooting practice helped him stretch the floor.

Other reasons for the rise in the milestone is the evolution of the 3-point shot and the speeding up of offense.

“I think the 3-point shot is part of it,” Lindlof said. “The kids love it and everyone thinks they are a 3-point shooter. Points add up quicker if you get a skilled guy because it’s a weapon and it spreads the defense out. They have to guard all the way out to the 3-point line so that creates more opportunities.”

Machias coach James Getchell has noticed the post game in Maine has gone by the wayside.

“The big thing is the 3-pointer changes the whole dynamic of the game,” Getchell said. “It changes how you play offense, run your defense, just the whole game. … It’s a shooting game now.”

Now, taller players are stretching the floor, like Reynolds and Machias senior Shane Feeney, a 6-foot-4 forward who could score from all levels and also surpassed 1,000 points this season.

“Cooper Flagg was a fine example,” Getchell added. “He was a big kid, could hit the three and could go down in the post but never really did much.”

Smaller schools also are sometimes more apt to get more 1,000-point scorers because some allow eighth graders to play varsity basketball due to school enrollment numbers. Urquhart also said the decline in basketball participation numbers allows players to get more starting minutes and rack up points earlier in their careers.

Multiple coaches mentioned that more and more teams are playing underclassmen on their varsity team, when in the past varsity teams were a majority upperclassmen.

In girls basketball, physical maturity comes into play, as well.

“I think you’re more apt to be physically developed as an eighth- or ninth-grader instead of a boy that matures in 11th or 12th grade,” Urquhart added. “But a girl at 15 might be as tall as she’ll ever be.”

And there’s also a correlation between being a top scorer and your team reaching the playoffs, which then gives players more games with which to reach the milestone.

All seven girls that reached the milestone this season made the playoffs, including Elise MacNair who led Old Orchard Beach to a Class C state title.

On the boys side, 18 of 19 players made the playoffs, with Brady Saunders of Brewer and Dirigo’s Charlie Houghton both taking home state titles. The numbers show that if you have a high scorer, the playoffs are within reach.

The number of players who can reach 2,000 career points remains a much more exclusive group.

Van Buren’s Parise Rossignol surpassed 1,000 points in her career, reaching it in her 35th game during her sophomore season. She finished with 2,589 career points, breaking her father Matt’s school-record 2,257 points. In Maine there have been just 19 total players to reach the milestone, with Parker Desjardins of Forest Hills most recently reaching the landmark in February 2021.

Cindy Blodgett leads all scorers in Maine history with 2,596 points.

While the 1,000-point plateau is the primary mark celebrated in high school basketball, coaches point to several other statistics that Maine could keep that would provide additional insight into the state’s top players.

Rebounds, for example, is a stat that was mentioned by multiple coaches.

Lizzy Gruber, a senior forward at Gardiner, recently reached 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds for her career, milestones that are not often reached together.

Gruber is an outlier, a picture of stardom on her own.

“Her getting the rebonds is kind of crazy,” Gray said, adding that Gruber finished her career with nearly 400 blocks too.

Gray said that basketball doesn’t have many round numbers that are easy to set for milestones and that some schools don’t keep track of many stats outside of points.

At Gardiner, coaches keep stats and every game is recorded on video and watched three times by the coaching staff. Once for game planning, once for tendencies and another for stat checking.  

Lindlof said that a round number of 500 career rebounds would be an “outstanding” achievement.

“It’s not in the public consciousness but there should be a rebounding mark and assist mark,” Lindlof said. He estimated that a player could average 8-10 rebounds per game for a year and that would get a player to around 500 rebounds. For assists, he estimated 300 would be a reasonable benchmark.

“Those are things that should be recognized as much as scoring but I would have to sit down and calculate the equal numbers to 1,000 points,” Lindlof said. “Those are significant milestones that should be recognized.”

Urquhart, who said Southern Aroostook has had around 25 players in its history reach the mark, said that win total would be a good stat to keep track of for players.

“It’s a team sport so I think my ultimate answer would be wins over individual accomplishments, but that might just be coach-speak,” Urquhart added.

Games played could also be a number noted when reaching 1,000 points. Mercier and Izzy Allen of Central both reached the milestone this season as juniors, even with a season that was limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s a great accomplishment for everyone,” Austin said. “Chance did his in roughly 50 games. He’s worked hard. I think it’s a great accomplishment for whomever gets it.”

Adam Robinson is a native of Auburn, Maine, and graduate of Husson University and Edward Little High School. He enjoys sports, going on runs and video games.