If you’re a boys basketball player in Maine, and you have aspirations of playing Division I college basketball, you had better make plans to travel. Because if you’re not playing out of state against stiff competition in the summer, your chances of getting noticed are small.

In September, Messalonskee High School senior Nick Mayo announced he’ll play college basketball at Eastern Kentucky University.

It’s not exaggerating to call Mayo’s AAU basketball experience life changing.

If Mayo’s AAU team, the Maine Athletic Club, had not played in a pair of basketball tournaments in Louisville, Ky., this summer, the EKU coaches never would have seen him play. Maybe a Division I school in the Northeast, a Maine or New Hampshire, two schools that recruited Mayo once he began playing well at AAU tournaments in Massachusetts this past spring, would have found Mayo based on his high school basketball resume at Messalonskee, but it’s unlikely.

“For a Maine kid to get recruited to that kind of level, he has to play AAU, to face that competition,” Peter McLaughlin, Mayo’s coach at Messalonskee, said.

When college coaches contacted McLaughlin, they didn’t want tape of Mayo playing for the Eagles. They may as well have watched tape of Mayo tying his shoes. What good does it do to see the 6-foot-8 Mayo play against an opponent six inches shorter than he? For a college coach with limited spots available on his roster, watching Mayo, or any high caliber high school player, play in those situations isn’t very productive.

Those players should look good in those situations. A college coach wants to see how a talented player reacts when facing somebody equally talented, or better.

In Maine, those opportunities just don’t happen often enough in the high school season. Carl Parker, the head boys basketball coach at Nokomis Regional High School and Mayo’s coach with the Maine Athletic Club, echoed McLaughlin’s sentiments.

“I’d like to say no, but you have to be playing at an environment different than high school basketball (to prepare for Division I),” Parker said.

It’s not for everybody. For every Mayo, there’s a kid who played AAU ball because his head was filled with grandiose dreams by a coach just trying to fill a roster spot. Playing against more talented players does not mean you’re more talented yourself. For some players, it’s a hard realization to make.

None of this is to say high school basketball in Maine is bad. On the contrary, the same players spending their summers crisscrossing the country with AAU teams are playing in the winter for their schools. along with more than 1,000 players taking the court for the simple pleasure of it.

In the grand scheme of things, this is the way this sort of thing should work. High school teams should be the sports of the everyman. It should be the place where a student athlete can represent his or her school and town. It should be the place where an athlete can play with his or her friends and have fun.

For college athletes and those on track to become college athletes, the games they choose become a de facto job soon enough. The spring and summer is for future defining, high competition basketball. The winter is for playing ball with your friends.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM