AUGUSTA — Cony athletic director Paul Vachon, author of 451 wins and seven state championships at the school, offered T.J. Maines some words of encouragement early in Maines’ tenure as the Rams’ boys basketball coach.

“He said ‘Just keep working hard. The way you guys play, people are going to want to come see it and be a part of it,'” Maines recalled. “And he was right.”

In his second year at Cony, Maines, the son of another Maine high school basketball coaching legend, Tom Maines, saw the Rams become relevant again in Eastern Class A, drawing more interest from Augusta fans as the season unfolded with a run-and-gun style. They had their first winning season and reached the regional quarterfinals for the first time in five years and, Maines believes, laid the foundation for Cony to become a perennial contender in Class A.

For making the Rams relevant again on the boys basketball scene, Maines is the 2014-15 Kennebec Journal Boys Basketball Coach of the Year.

Making the Rams a factor again took time. Maines brought an ultra-uptempo style with him to Cony when he was hired in 2013 that he’d previously used to turn around Thomas College. The Rams showed flashes during his first season, finished 7-11 and just missed a tournament berth. But it would take a full season for the players to fully grasp and buy into his system and the grueling practices that came with it.

“They were definitely the most intense high school practices I’ve had,” senior guard Liam Stokes said. “They’re not just walkthroughs or shootarounds. They’re full court practices from beginning to end. We may not have always liked it, but we were always in shape, and we needed to be in shape to play that style. And to win, we had to play that style.”

“It puts a lot of stress on a kid in practice, physically and mentally,” said Maines, who was voted Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Coach of the Year by his peers. “The thought process was this will replicate the pressure situations they face in a game.”

It also took some time for Maines to learn his personnel. He didn’t have much size, but there was plenty of speed and athleticism.

The plan was to use those attributes to put pressure on the opposing team, force turnovers and get out in transition, where shooters like Stokes, T.J. Cusick, Tyler Tardiff and Ben Leet, among others, could spread the floor, fire from the 3-point arc or attack the basket off the dribble. In his second year, he had a clearer vision of where all of the pieces fit.

“This year, I had a better handle on what I could expected from Player A, B and C than I did last year,” he said. “That made all of the difference in the world.”

It also made a big difference that he could count on the players giving their all, he said.

“I knew every day the kids were going to bust their hump in practice,” he said. “I knew every game we weren’t going to be outworked. The energy and effort were going to be there. Intangibles, too.”

A quintet of seniors — Tayler Carrier, Mitchell Caron, Leet, Stokes and Tardiff — brought a lot of those intangibles, Maines said, and left an imprint on what he hopes can be a consistently strong program.

“We’re going to establish ourselves as a program that can compete year in and year out, and I feel strongly that we’re going to look back on that senior group and say they did it the right way,” Maines said.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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