Gardiner Area High School boys basketball coach Jason Cassidy wasn’t satisfied with last year’s 5-13 record and began work on improvement shortly after the season ended.

During the offseason, the Tigers played in the Central Maine Summer League as well as a number of tournaments.

“Instead of team camp, we did a bunch of team weekends,” Cassidy said. “We felt that this was a strong group, a dedicated group.”

Cassidy’s instincts proved right as the Tigers went 13-5 this season and reached the Eastern Maine Class B tournament where they won a quarterfinal game.

For his efforts, Cassidy has been selected Kennebec Journal Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. Also considered were Monmouth’s Lucas Turner and Richmond’s Phil Houdlette.

While Cassidy set a primary goal of improvement, he had an important secondary goal as well.

“This year he really emphasized sportsmanship,” senior point guard Mike Trahan said.

That goal was realized as well. The Tigers won both the Eastern Maine Class B sportsmanship award and one presented by Central Maine officials IAABO Board 20.

“That’s something we’re trying to build, respect our opponents and have them respect us,” Cassidy said. “We made it a priority. These kids are the first ones to buy into it.”

Cassidy also called parents of team members into the gym and spoke of sportsmanship with them.

“It’s not just the players,” he said. “It’s the fans.”

On the court, Cassidy’s team played hard-nosed defense and his players settled into their roles quickly. It helped that he had been with his junior and senior group dating back to his middle school coaching days.

“I’ve been involved with him for five years,” Trahan said. “He relates well to the kids, he’s open. He’s adapted to our different years. This year he concentrated on team.”

Team play at both ends of the floor helped the Tigers register wins over Medomak Valley, Leavitt and Maranacook — all tournament teams — as well as Presque Isle in the Eastern Maine quarterfinals.

Cassidy, who teaches math at Gardiner Regional Middle School, has immersed himself in the youth programs as well.

“Our numbers are up all across the board,” he said. “We’ve done a better job of finding the coaches we want within the program.”

Cassidy played high school ball at Calais, and he served as boys freshman coach, varsity assistant and junior varsity girls coach at Lawrence before coming to Gardiner.

“I think you’ve really got to teach the game these days,” he said. “You’ve really got to give the kids a chance to read the situations.”

Gary Hawkins — 621-5638

[email protected]

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