If ever there was an example of a self-made player it was Gary Towle, who one summer wore out six basketballs playing dawn to dusk in preparation for his senior year at Cony High School.
Towle paid particular attention to shooting and ballhandling, replicating all the drills “Pistol” Pete Maravich used to become a college star. The hard work paid off as Towle averaged nearly 30 points a game to lead Cony to a Class A state championship in 1978. The Rams went on to win the New England title later that year and Towle’s legacy as one of the state’s all-time greats was cemented.
He went on to become the first player from Maine to play for a Big East school when he accepted a full scholarship to Providence College. He was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame last weekend in the high school category along with dozens of other athletes. There were so many inductees in various categories, and no time for acceptance speeches.
Towle called recently from his home in Bedford, Nova Scotia to remind us that there are no self-made players.
“To me it was about thanking everybody that had a part in it,” Towle said of his induction. “I’ve come full circle. This is the last chapter, this is it.”
Towle thanked his junior high coach Pete Washburn and sub-varsity coaches Bob Fairbrother and Rusty Atwood, both of whom went on to become head coaches. And Dave Pound, whose “let ‘em-play” coaching style blended perfectly with the ’78 championship team.
“Of course, Pine Tree played a big part,” Towle said, in reference to Pine Tree Basketball camp at Colby College.
Run by former Colby coach Dick Whitmore and current University of Maine at Farmington coach Dick Meader, the staff at Pine Tree included former Cony coach Dick Hunt and Brendan Malone who recently accepted an assistant’s job with the Sacramento Kings. Players from throughout the northeast attended the camp
“That had to be the best camp in New England,” Towle said. “If it hadn’t been for Pine Tree and all the kids they brought in . . . “
The camp featured many ex-NBA players as guest lecturers and just about every Celtic and ex-Celtic showed up at one time or another.
“Togo Palazzi, he came up every year,” said Towle of the former Holy Cross star and Celtics player. “He’d always show us a skill. He was so intense.”
Towle had special praise for his teammates.
“It’s about everybody,” he said. “I wasn’t the only one out there practicing. I had the luxury of having the best defensive player in the state (Steve O’Brien) guarding me every day in practice.”
The state hadn’t seen any players like Towle before he arrived. He seemed to have unlimited shooting range and dribbled the ball behind his back and through his legs long before it was fashionable in these parts.
“Basketball changed in the ’70s,” he said. “Players like Earl Monroe and Julius Erving, they really changed the game. We were right in the middle of that. These were individuals playing a team sport.”
As good as he was, Towle was a team player, too. He set a regular-season Bangor Auditorium record his senior year with a 54-point effort. When Pound asked Mark Sutton to replace him after Towle had scored about 48 points, Sutton said he and his teammates wanted Towle to stay in and break the Auditorium record.
“It was just such an unselfish thing to do,” Towle said.
Towle, of course, reserved special praise for his parents, who supported his obsession.
“In the beginning they didn’t know what to think,” he said.
Towle has coached provincial teams (the equivalent of AAU) and his son Chris, 15, is waiting in the wings. He’s played in several showcases in the states and his style, (available to watch on YouTube), is reminiscent of his father’s.
“We practice everything,” Towle said. “It’s not just one thing.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638