The gym at Mt. Blue High School was closed all basketball season as part of a massive construction project. When the gym reopens next year, it would be pretty cool if it carried Jim Bessey’s name.

It’s the least they can do for the man who coached more games and prowled its sidelines more than anyone.

“If they don’t name the gym after him, then something’s wrong with the Mt. Blue school board,” said Lawrence boys basketball coach Mike McGee, who has coached plenty of games in that gym over the years against Bessey’s Cougars.

After 37 years coaching boys basketball at Mt. Blue, Bessey announced his retirement this week. If you measure coaching success in wins, Bessey had a successful career with 479 victories. If you measure coaching success in lives touched and relationships built, Bessey had a very successful career.

“He would do anything for anyone off the floor,” said Dave Simpson, a former Mt. Blue assistant coach who is now the head coach at Skowhegan. “You might have a death in the family, and you come home, and your lawn’s all done because Jim’s done it.”

You can tell the love Bessey has for basketball in the way he talks about his players. Asked to compare Cam Sennick, who helped lead this past season’s team to the Eastern Maine championship game, and who was a finalist for Mr. Basketball, to some of the great Mt. Blue big men, Bessey reeled off a half-dozen names without missing a beat. He probably could have named a half-dozen more.

Bessey’s love for basketball shows up during games. He could no more contain his excitement than he could stop breathing. At a Mt. Blue game, you’d see Bessey jump up and down in happiness, or jump up and down in frustration. You’d see him raise his arm and pump his fist, high five players.

“He was very loud, energetic. He’s over the top,” Sennick said.

Bessey’s love for the game shows up in the number of former players and assistant coaches who have gone on to run their own programs.

Gavin Kane built a girls basketball juggernaut at Dirigo and coached the Dirigo boys to a state game appearance. Mike Kane coached the Mt. Blue girls and University of Maine at Augusta men. Jeff Hart has the gold standard Class B program at Camden Hills. Mike Adams, who won Mr. Basketball playing for Bessey in 1990, has built Edward Little of Auburn into a perennial contender in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference.

A few years ago, Kane, Hart and Adams each had a team in the state championship game. In building their own thing, each takes a little from Bessey.

“I’d be crazy to not do stuff I get from him, because it’s proven to work,” Adams said. “He’s a genius. He’s a coaching genius. Kids that played for Jim Bessey didn’t just play. He teaches the game and they know the game.”

Getting ready to play against Mt. Blue was like getting ready to take the basketball bar exam.

“It’s a nightmare, because Mt. Blue does so many things,” Simpson said. “You never know what he’d pull out of his hat… He’d beat you, and he’d be almost apologetic after.”

Added Adams: “You go in knowing that you’re going up against one of the best coaches in the state. He’s seen every situation.”

Bessey won’t be doing his sideline calisthenics anymore, but you’ll see his mark whenever you see one of his former players or assistants coach, or hopefully when Mt. Blue plays on Jim Bessey Court or in Jim Bessey Gym.

Bessey’s hand has touched high school basketball all over the state, and we’re lucky that his mark will be felt for some time.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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