When the New England Basketball Hall of Fame let Mike McGee know he would be inducted as a member of the Class of 2013, it was easy to think McGee was entering the Hall as a high school coach. McGee retired after this past season, ending 28-year career as head boys basketball coach at Lawrence High School with 350 wins, five Eastern Class A titles and two state championships.

Instead, McGee, who will be inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday in a ceremony in Worcester, Mass., learned he’s entering the Hall as a high school player.

“I was surprised, but excited to be representing Lawrence,” McGee, a 1976 graduate of Lawrence, said. “I think I was a much better coach than a high school player. I’m not sure I’m in the top five or 10 players at Lawrence. There’s some real talent here.”

McGee the high school basketball player was pretty good, although he wasn’t a dominant player until his final two seasons.

“Mike was a late bloomer. He never came into his own until his junior and senior years,” Charles “Gus” Folsom, McGee’s coach at Lawrence, said. “He wasn’t very aggressive, which held him back.”

McGee agrees 100 percent with Folsom’s assessment, and recalled the conversation with his father, Dick McGee, that sparked him to improve.

“Between my sophomore and junior years, I complained to my dad about playing time,” McGee said. “He told me I wasn’t working hard enough. He said ‘Put an hour in each day and work on your game.’ “

That summer, McGee spent hours alone in the Colby College gymnasium, improving his game, and it worked. As a junior and senior, McGee became one of the leaders of the Bulldogs.

Unlike his coaching style, which stressed defense first, McGee’s game was about attacking the basket and scoring.

“I thought I had a good, quick first step and could get by my defender,” McGee said. “I taught my (teams) to do all the things I didn’t do.”

McGee played every position except center for Lawrence.

“He was a great offensive player, one of the best offensive players Lawrence has had. He could play all over the floor,” Folsom said.

The Bulldogs went 16-2 in the regular season of McGee’s senior year, losing a pair of close games to Mt. Blue. The No. 3 seed in the Eastern Maine Class A tournament, Lawrence rolled to the regional title. The Bulldogs defeated Bangor (79-45), Caribou (77-56) and Old Town (72-57). According to box scores published in the Morning Sentinel at the time, McGee averaged 21 points per game in the Eastern tournament.

“We had a really good mix of players,” McGee said, naming teammates Rick Grover, Ray Foster, Russ Belanger and Kevin Doody. “Russ did all the dirty work.”

In the Class A state championship game at the Augusta Civic Center, the Bulldogs ran into a Rumford juggernaut. Two years earlier, the Panthers defeated Lawrence for the 1974 state title. In 1976, Rumford, led by Doug Roberts, was in the middle of a run in which in it played in four state championship games in five years.

“We thought we had a great team until we played Rumford,” Folsom said. “Those Rumford teams of those two years (1974 and 1976) were as good a team as I’ve seen come out of Maine. They were big, fast and very aggressive.”

Rumford led throughout the game, and held an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter before Lawrence rallied to make it close. Rumford won, 81-80, and McGee scored 25 points in the loss.

“I think we were intimated by them,” McGee said.

It wasn’t until the following year at Bridgton Academy, then at Colby playing for Dick Whitmore, that McGee began to develop the defensive philosophy that defined his coaching style.

“I learned that everybody who plays defense wins championships,” McGee said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

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