Martin Cleveland’s dreams aren’t as lofty these days. But they’re bigger, because he’s dreaming for three people now.

When Cleveland graduated from Deering High School and went to play basketball in Husson for the 2006-07 season, he was very clear that being in Bangor was just a steppingstone, a chance to improve his grades and ward off the rust in his game, then move on to a higher level of college basketball.

But Cleveland’s time at Franklin Pierce was short, and a lot has happened in his life since. He joined the Army, and spent two tours of duty in Iraq, totaling 15 months. He now is the father and has shared custody of two children, a son named Tayshaun, and a daughter named Jazaiah. He’s also back playing college basketball, as a 24-year-old sophomore and starting center at Thomas College.

“I think I would have done some things differently,” Cleveland said before a recent practice. “I would have done quite a few things differently, I think. But now that it’s happened, I just make the best of it. I’m not going to regret it.

“I can’t really regret anything. I just keep it moving, and not really think about it. I love my kids, and I’ll do everything I have to do for them. As long as they’re in good health and happy, I’ll be happy.”

Cleveland has noticed players he played against getting spots on teams overseas or in the NBA Development League, and he feels that could have been him if things had worked out differently.

“I was right there, the same tier that they were at going into college,” Cleveland said. “But people learn different ways.”

Cleveland had to learn through the experiences of serving in Iraq and being a father. He’s majoring in marketing at Thomas because he’d like to eventually own his own restaurant. He’s also improved his focus in the classroom, to the point where Thomas coach T.J. Maines suggested Cleveland drop an especially demanding course, only to have Cleveland stay with it and end up with a B.

“Bottom line is, basketball is about fourth on his priority list — as well it should be,” Maines said. “He needs to graduate from college. I know that Thomas is a place that he can graduate from. He’s given up a lot to be in school full-time and to play basketball full-time. I have a lot of respect for him for trying to better his life and better his kids’ lives down the road.”

Cleveland, who still has military commitments, brushes off being pulled in so many different directions, saying he doesn’t really like to sit still anyway. And while Cleveland’s concentration is so strong he looks surly on the court, Maines says Cleveland’s real personality is quite different.

“One of our first games, I was walking up and down the sidelines, and I was ticked off, and I’m yelling,” Maines said. “And I feel someone slap my butt. I turn around, like ‘What the hell?’ and he’s giggling like a schoolgirl. I was just like, ‘This is what I’m dealing with.’ “

Maines has also made a point to give Cleveland a lot of leeway with his schedule. Often, Cleveland will miss practice because it’s his turn to watch his children. In fact, Cleveland wanted to go back to play at Husson this season, but chose Thomas because it was closer to where his children live.

“Yeah, I could have people watch them, but that’s my time with them,” Cleveland said. “They’re not with me 24/7, so every chance I get to spend with them, it’s like gold. It’s precious.”

“He’s a great dad,” Maines said. “He’s very caring. He’s just a very loving guy.”

As people age, they often realize that things just don’t come as easily as they did when they were 18. That’s certainly the case with Cleveland. He had a setback in early December, when he was arrested for refusing to sign a summons.

“That was just an incident that went overboard,” Cleveland said. “The other parties that were involved, we all talked, and we all chalked it up as just an incident that we’re going to put behind us.

“It was just another one of those things that I’m going to have to learn from, and just not do again. I know what to do next time, to not let that happen.”

On the court, things also aren’t as naturally effortless as they were five years ago. Cleveland’s knees bother him sometimes after practices and games. Where he used to weigh 240 to 245, he now weighs 220, and jokes that he gets “bullied down there.”

“Against Farmington the other day, he had three balls where he tried to dunk the ball, instead of just catch it and finish it,” Maines said. “The old Martin would have caught and dunked all of those.”

But if the years have taught Cleveland anything, it’s how to adjust. He’s worked hard on a jump shot that you never would have seen him take at Deering or Husson. On Saturday, he went 11 for 12 from the field against Husson, putting up 24 points and 12 rebounds. Along with a few jumpers came three blocked shots, and a two-handed dunk.

Maines admits he hasn’t done as good enough job of getting Cleveland involved in the offense, simply because he hasn’t had a 6-foot-6 center with Cleveland’s skills at Thomas.

Cleveland, who is averaging 12.6 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, likes the idea of getting more involved, and likes the idea of possibly helping Thomas win a North Atlantic Conference championship. But he doesn’t look beyond that. His biggest dreams aren’t basketball ones anymore.

“It’s my stress-reliever,” Cleveland said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on. I’m an adult, so I’ve got responsibilities that most college people really don’t have.

“I’m basically just trying to do the right thing. I figure I’m going to struggle now, and hopefully when I get this degree, I won’t be struggling, and I would have struggled for a reason.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]


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