Todd MacArthur’s team had been dazed, and his star player was in trouble. The Winthrop boys basketball team was scuffling with its lead over Madison whittled down to five points with 4:20 to go in the Class C South regional final, and Jacob Hickey had just committed a charge for his fourth foul.
One more would mean a seat for the rest of the game. MacArthur made sure his senior captain knew it, waggling four fingers toward him. Unconcerned, Hickey waved him off.
MacArthur kept Hickey in the game, and said afterward he never had a thought to the contrary. After four years, he had learned plenty of times over that he could trust his guard in the tightest of circumstances.
“It’s basketball IQ, it’s composure, it’s intelligence. You’re not going to find a kid who’s smarter than Jake Hickey,” MacArthur said after the game, a 58-42 victory that Hickey’s 26 points helped secure. “He’s a bright kid, he knows what’s going on around him. … It’s a gamble I’m willing to take any day of the week.”
It was a fitting acknolwedgement after a season in which Hickey once again served as the lethal scoring presence and heart of a Winthrop team that answered high expectations by taking an undefeated record into the state championship game. Hickey averaged 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.7 steals per game, reached 1,000 career points and was named a finalist for the Mr. Maine Basketball award — which, for a player with Hickey’s knowledge and appreciation of local basketball history, was particularly humbling.
“When I was little, (Winthrop’s) Sam Leclerc was a Mr. Basketball finalist. He was really my role model growing up,” said Hickey, who credited award winner Ryan Martin of Maranacook with helping him progress as a player. “I’ve always aspired to get to that point with my game, where I try to be one of the best in the state. That’s always a goal of mine.”
With Hickey at the helm, the Ramblers validated their status as preseason favorites, romping their way to a Mountain Valley Conference title before embarking on their playoff run. There was never a sense of complacency, either from the team or its leader.
“We definitely wanted to come out strong and prove to people that we were still here,” Hickey said. “We still had something to prove. … It wasn’t necessarily pressure, it was more passion and drive to get it to where we wanted to be.”
Hickey was the Kennebec Journal’s Player of the Year last year as well, but from the first day of the season — and even before — it was clear this winter would be a different one as far as he was concerned. Winthrop had a wealth of offensive options both returning and maturing into bigger roles this season, so Hickey was going from having an offense heaped on his shoulders to being a talented piece of a potent cast.
“Last year we did more quick hitters for me, and this year it was kind of in the flow of the offense, not necessarily plays designed for me,” he said. “It was just trying to get my teammates more open, try to drive, try to dish it out, because I knew we had more options.”
“He just had to see the game differently. He had to see how defenses were playing him,” MacArthur said. “He had to trust his teammates and he had to trust his passing ability, that by giving the ball up it’s going to make a player better. … We knew that, in order for us to get to the next level, we needed him to increase his assist numbers. And he definitely did that. That kid wanted to win more than anybody.”
That competitive desire flourished in the biggest moments, and against the best opponents. When the game got tight, the Ramblers looked for Hickey to make the plays. And Hickey, equally adept at draining a 3-pointer as finishing on a drive through contact in the lane, often obliged.
“Anytime during a big moment when we needed a shot, I think I have the confidence to put the ball in the basket,” he said. “I’ve been there before in big moments, I have experience there, so I think I had the confidence to score when we needed it.”
The sum of it all was an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor for the state championship game, which, in a season full of individual accolades, Hickey said were the highlights that will last the longest.
“Playing in a state championship game would definitely be on the top of that list, no matter the outcome,” he said. “It’s an amazing experience to play in front of all those people and really represent your community in a way where you can kind of be role models for the younger generation playing basketball.”
Drew Bonifant — 621-5638