Mike McGee coached basketball for 31 years at Lawrence High School, the last 28 as boys varsity head coach. He retired with 350 wins, five Eastern Class A titles and two state championships, in 1990 and 1994.

Early in the 2012-13 season, McGee announced this season would be his last. His Bulldogs reached the Eastern Class A championship game, where they lost to Hampden Academy, 50-49, on a buzzer-beating shot by Nick Gilpin.

Recently, McGee sat down with me and talked about his career. We began the discussion by talking about the closing seconds of the Eastern Maine final.

Travis Lazarczyk: Have you watched the end of the (Eastern A final) game yet?

Mike McGee: Yeah, when I got home. After every game, I have to analyze anyway, no matter what the loss is. So I went home and watched it until about 2:30 in the morning. Then I watched the Maine Public Broadcasting Network (broadcast) a couple days later, and it made me feel a little bit better.

You look at it, and, do you take the timeout? I tapped the ref on the shoulder and said ‘Timeout on a make.’ because we were going to decide whether to foul them or not. So you ask yourself that, and you look to see where all the pieces fell in.

(Note: Lawrence’s Xavier Lewis was the free throw line with a chance to give the Bulldogs a three-point lead with four seconds left. Lewis missed the free throw, and Hampden won on a 30-foot buzzer beating shot by Gilpin.)

I think it was just fate. If you were to take the timeout, which many people said you shouldn’t because you’re giving them a chance to set up a play. I think if you were to take the timeout, you run the risk of them taking a play, plus you hope they’re taking a shot like that, anyway, only contested. That was the only difference.

TL: Take me through the last 10 seconds of that game. Zack Gilpin makes his free throws. Xavier (Lewis) comes down and makes what would have been one of the historical shots, and then, of course, Nick Gilpin.

MM: We iced Zack on the second shot, and he made it. The reason was, we said if he misses get the rebound and hold it. They’re going to foul you. We had our two best foul shooters, Xavier and Spencer (Carey) in there. If he makes it, we went to a set play where Spencer takes the ball to the rim. It’s like dribble drive. He likes to go to the left, so we put Xavier on the left and Nick (Noiles) on the right, and we put the (other) two guys on the baseline. That went perfect, we just left too much time. If you look at it, if (Lewis) doesn’t get fouled, the game’s over because Hampden has no timeouts. Once he made it, it was mayhem.

So now it comes, do we take the timeout now? Do we wait? Certainly, there was no way we were going to take our timeout then and ice him. I’m not even sure you take the timeout. I’ve talked to probably 50, 55 coaches since then, and almost all of them, to a tee, said you don’t take a timeout at all, because they’re so good, in four seconds, they’re going to get a set play or a good shot off, as opposed to, they’re all hanging their heads right now. They’re not sure what the heck’s going on. It’s going to be a heave. I think, to be honest, if he would’ve made that shot, if I called a timeout, it would’ve been harder if they got something out of it as opposed to just letting them run rampant like they really did.

TL: To leave after this season wasn’t a spur of the moment decision for you. You said, I think, four years ago, that this would be it. What made you decide this was going to be the last one?

MM: For about 10 years, I’ve been talking about it, and just trying to pick the right time. I had Spencer’s group in the eighth grade, and knew they were loaded with basketball players and kids that were dedicated. Teaching junior high, you’ve always had kids who were ‘Hey, Coach. I can’t wait to play for you.’ So you know you’ve got to cut it off somewhere. When you’ve been doing it for so long, it’s going to be a big change for the program, so you want to be fair to everyone.

I just knew that this group played the game the way I coach it, and it had a great set of parents. You couldn’t ask for a better set of parents this year. We all know about the parent horror stories all over the state, and all over the country, but this group played the game, played tenacious, hard-nosed defense, ball security, smart basketball. And their parents let me coach. It was just a great way to go out. Some of the parents, I had in class 30 years ago. I knew some of them. I just thought this was the best group to cut it off.

I started with a special freshman named Troy Scott, and ended with a special freshman named Spencer Carey.

TL: Did you ever consider changing your mind? Did you ever say, ‘Well, maybe I have a couple more in me?’

MM: This summer, when Xavier moved, and I saw the chemistry with Xavier and the kids. You’re fresh in the summer. You’re tan. There are no black circles (under your eyes). You’re rested. You’re on vacation, so to speak. That’s probably the only time.

But once the grind of the season started, getting back on the bus, all of the stuff you go through. The late nights. You get to school at 6:30 (a.m.) and get home at 10:30 (p.m.) when you play at Bangor. Then I knew it was the right decision.

You know, the bottom line is, I’m tired of being tired. Like I said at the banquet (Tuesday) night, I apologized to the underclassmen. I said ‘I’m not running out on you guys, but my tank is empty right now.’

If you could take a sabbatical, and have a year off, I might come back. Lawrence is where I belong. It’s a special place. It’s a great fit. But you can’t take a sabbatical, and who knows what I’ll do after I have a year or two off? Everyone knows I’m born to coach. It’s in my blood, but right now, this tank is empty.

TL: You guys have been known for years for the defensive style. Talk about the evolution of the Lawrence defense.

MM: It was stated at the banquet last night by Elon Firmage and Jason Pellerin, Lawrence, and no one will ever question, is a football school. The football kids during football, really from July to November, don’t do any skill work. We don’t have the most skilled players, but what we have is the toughest kids around. I think that was very evident this tournament, that our mental and physical toughness carried us almost to a championship.

I said, when I first came in, because our football team is always contending for a championship, we’re going to have to be tough. We’re going to come out late. We’re going to be behind everybody by two weeks. Our skill set and our legs aren’t going to be up to par, so we’ve got to play the best defense that we can.

There was a quote somewhere, ‘You should never have an off day on defense.’ You could have (an off day) on offense. It just stuck.

The ’86 team, we were still mixing things up, and in ’87. But the ’89-’90 team is when it really became a trademark.

TL: The first title.

MM: The first title. I think someone at the Portland Press Herald said it’s manacle defense. They’re just all over the place. They’re in passing lanes. They’re in your face. It’s a crazy type of defense, and that’s just the way it’s been.

That ’90 team and this past year are probably the two best defensive teams I’ve had.

TL: I’m going to put you on the spot a little bit. Give me your all-Lawrence team of the guys who played for you.

MM: That would be a tough one. We’ve had so many great players, it would be hard to give you five. Troy Scott, Aaron Harris, guys like that are the 1,000-point scorers, but you look at what we’ve built. The Steve Jaroses, Matt Saunders, we wouldn’t be anywhere without them. Do you go offense, do you go defense?

I’ll never forget, in 1990, when we won our first state championship, Lenny Cole got the MVP, and someone said ‘Who’s the MVP?’ and I said ‘Steve Jarose.’ He took Dan Ladd out, who was averaging 25 points per game, held him to seven.

Everyone always talks about Goose (Scott), obviously. Trafton Teague was the second-leading scorer, guys like that. It’s hard to mention those guys without mentioning the Kelly Dyers, the Steve Jaroses, Matt Saunders, Todd MacArthur, who’s doing it down at Winthrop now, was a (beast) on defense. Guys like that set the trend for you defensively.

TL: Do you have a favorite moment?

MM: The ’86 that upset (Waterville). That put us on the map and got our program going.

Lawrence had never won a state championship. In 1976, we took the bus ride home from Augusta. We had just lost to Rumford my senior year, 81-80 (in the Class A state final). We were greeted by a gym full of people. The gym was packed. I said ‘Someday, I’m going to bring this town the Gold Ball that they deserve.’

In 1990, we did it. I made that promise in 1976. There’s nothing like riding on the bus all the way home from Portland with the Gold Ball sitting in front of you, winning your last game.

Every coach will tell you, there’s nothing like winning your last game of the season. At 2:30 in the morning, the gym was full.

TL: A least favorite moment?

MM: 4.2 seconds. The same thing happened in 1988. We were the first Lawrence team to go in No. 1. We played Presque Isle, No. 8, and that was the only team that I didn’t totally prepare for. And it never happened again.

That might have been one of the best teams I coached. We had three lefty guards, which is fabulous, and we were ousted in the first round.

TL: Prior to announcing your retirement, was there any time you considered leaving, because you were burned out or just to move on to another place?

MM: Absolutely. I’ve had a couple offers to coach in college. There was a couple high school jobs in (southern Maine) that were intriguing. When Deering opened in ’99, a few of the Deering parents contacted me to look into that job.

But I don’t have a resume. I’ve never put a resume together. As far as going somewhere else, that was not really the question as much as burnout. I put so much into it. I go home every night, and even if it’s a road game, I stay up and watch that game so I can prepare for practice the next day. I watch who we’re playing, because you just don’t have time during the school day to do it. I probably go to bed around 1, 1:30., on average. If we’re home, I’m lucky if I’m in bed by 11:30.

It was important to me, after 31 years, to go out on my terms, doing it my way. And I did it my way. I was never swayed by parents. We know a lot of programs where the parents run the program. I was never swayed by politics, and I’m lucky to say I’m going out on my terms. I don’t know of many coaches who are doing that right now.

That’s important when you’ve done it for so long.

TL: How do you want to be remembered?

MM: He got everything out of his kids every year. His kids gave him everything they had. Nobody wanted to play them in a tournament game or a regular-season game, because his kids played so hard. They played tenacious. They played with class, and they did it the right way.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]


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