Ethan Welch did the grunt work now, so someday he’ll be able to prowl the sideline in front of his own basketball team.

Welch folded and handed out towels. He filled cups of water. He set up drills during the University of Maine men’s basketball team practices. He helped coaches break down film. Most of all, Welch paid attention.

“I want to be a coach,” said Welch, who graduated from Winslow High School last year. “I’m thankful I have this position. The coaches are very helpful.”

A freshman at the University of Maine, Welch spent the basketball season working as a manager with the men’s basketball team. The volunteer gig was the first step down the path to Welch’s ultimate goal of coaching his own program.

“He’s smart, he’s dedicated and he’s reliable,” Maine head coach Bob Walsh said of Welch. “If we need him to handle tasks, we don’t have to double-check. He gets it done.”

Welch was one of a handful of student managers working with the Black Bears this season. Even before he enrolled at the university, Welch knew he wanted to be a coach. He knew working with and learning from the men’s basketball coaching staff would help achieve that goal.

Welch knew Matt Buck, a Lawrence High grad who worked as a manager with the Black Bears. Welch went to a Maine game last season, met Walsh, the coaching staff, and the players, and knew he wanted his four years in Orono to include being a part of the team.

“I knew I wanted to be invested in the program,” Welch said.

To his credit, Walsh is happy to be a mentor to Welch and all the team’s managers.

“I take the roles of these guys very seriously. I want to make sure they’re getting everything they want out of the experience,” Walsh said. “We’re treating them as part of the team and part of the staff.”

One of the first questions Walsh asks prospective managers is, how much do they want to take on? There’s plenty of work, if you’re eager to take it on.

“How much do they want to be involved, and how much do they want to take out of it? If you want to be a coach, do you want to be involved when we break down film?” Walsh said.

To Welch, the answer was simple. He wanted to be involved with all of it. He recorded practices, or jumped into a drill to catch passes or rebound if the Black Bears needed an extra pair of hands. He learned to break down game film with the coaches. Welch created a master schedule of every team member’s class schedule to help coaches plan practice time. He went on some road trips with the Black Bears.

Any freshman in college is relatively new to everything, but with Welch and basketball, it’s even more so. Welch didn’t begin playing basketball until he reached high school, making the move to hoops from wrestling. Playing for Jared Browne at Winslow, Welch was the kind of player Welch the coach is going to love. He showed up and worked hard every day, with no guarantee of playing time. What Welch gained from Browne was more important than minutes in a game. From Browne, Welch learned to love basketball, and learned he wanted to keep the game in his life.

“Coach Browne and I are pretty close,” Welch said. “I gained a lot of ideas of what I’d like my team to be like.”

This was another tough season for the Black Bears. Hit by injuries and suspensions, Maine went 7-25 and failed to advance to the semifinal round of the America East tournament for the 12th consecutive season. The team’s overall failure was disheartening, but did not discourage Welch, nor did it change his career path. His major is Elementary Education, and Welch is still very eager to coach. The losses are a grind, sure, but they make the wins that much sweeter, he said.

“Coaching is a really hard task, but it’s very rewarding. We had a tough season, but when we get those wins, and everybody’s celebrating in the locker room after the game, it’s great. All that hard work pays off,” Welch said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM