AUGUSTA — Cony High School basketball fans may not have heard of Simon McCormick. But they know who he is.

“I’ve never had so many people come up to me and say ‘I watch your team because I want to see the little kid play,’ ” Rams coach T.J. Maines said. “They don’t even know his name, but they’re just like ‘You have that little freshman. I love watching him play.’ ”

Go to a Cony game, and it’s hard to miss the ‘little freshman.’ At 5-foot-1, McCormick stands dwarfed by almost every player he faces, which is problematic in a sport in which height, length and vertical leap are king.

Keep watching, however, and you’ll see the other reason it’s hard to miss him. You’ll see the steadfast defense on the perimeter, the willingness to bail the team out with a charge, the shot that seems to find the net more often when the game matters most.

And you’ll see why the ‘little freshman’ has earned himself a pretty big role.

“I’ve always been the smallest on my team, since first grade,” McCormick said. “I think it’s an advantage. I’m low to the ground, I keep my dribble low. It’s harder to guard me, and I’m quicker.”

As a point guard who comes off the bench, McCormick, the only freshman on the varsity roster, has carved out a niche on the Rams as the team’s facilitator on offense and one of its best outside guards on defense. The stats (5 points per game, 3.2 assists per game) are modest, but McCormick has also notched 31 steals, and his 13 charges lead the team.

“He has a really high intellect and basketball I.Q.,” Maines said. “He makes the right pass at the right time almost always. And defensively, he’s the best on-the-ball defender I’ve coached, probably. He’s up there with some of the kids I had at Thomas (College) as far as having quick feet. … We’re fortunate that he’s here.”

It was far from a given that he would be. McCormick’s path, even to this country, has had its twists and turns.

Born in Haiti, McCormick was given up for adoption by his father after his mother died as a result of the birth. He was 11 months old when Karen McCormick, a teacher, adopted him and brought him to Whitefield. He was an infant when he left, but he keeps his Haitian roots alive. He doesn’t know his father’s name, but he writes to him once or twice a year, usually around Fathers Day, and gets updates on his father and three sisters. He hopes to visit the country later, perhaps in his senior year.

“I just ask him how the family’s doing,” he said. “We send backpacks and school supplies and pictures of my sisters.”

McCormick’s new home in Maine included a son, Dylan, of one of Karen’s friends. He was always around the house, and Simon tried to follow his lead.

“He was like a brother to me,” McCormick said. “He played basketball, baseball and soccer, so I followed in his footsteps. I liked baseball more, but basketball, when I got into third and fourth grade, was my main sport.”

That leads to the other reason Cony caught a break. As a Whitefield resident, McCormick has options on which school to attend. He was leaning toward Gardiner, but Karen and Maines were close, and when Maines took the Cony job, he started an AAU team with the idea of drawing Jordan Roddy, who was in eighth grade, and McCormick, who was in sixth.

Given his mother’s familiarity with Maines and his experience playing for him, McCormick’s decision became easy.

“It started to be just Cony, and Gardiner just drifted off,” McCormick said.

It’s easy to understand Maines’ eagerness to land McCormick, who last year started playing for Next Level AAU, which Maines called the best team in the state for his age.

“It’s not just basketball I.Q. He’s got athletic sense,” he said. “He understands spacing, he understands ‘Can I get from point A to point B? What’s the best way to get there?’ He understands angles really well.”

Still, size was an obstacle. In middle school, Maines said, McCormick would get bullied on the court and pout if he didn’t get calls. But as he grew up, maturity kicked in. Complaints about calls became a quiet resolution to make up for it the next time down the court.

By the time he arrived at Cony, faced with the challenge of handling varsity’s rigors, he was ready for them.

“I felt like, during the summer, I worked my way in,” McCormick said. “I felt like I could play with them, I had the talent to. Just get to know them, getting the chemistry down and what they like and don’t like.”

“He plays 100 miles an hour, but yet, seems to be under control,” Maines said. “I can jump all over him and yell at him as much as I would yell at a senior, and he’s unfazed. And he’ll go out and do what I’m asking him to do.”

As the season went on, McCormick found a way to get around his height disadvantage. He studied videos of how the Boston Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas, an All-Star at 5-foot-9, releases his shot. And teammates noticed that the mistakes he made in December became scarcer and scarcer by February.

“At the start of the season, he would do stupid things like go to the sideline,” senior guard Nate Parlin said. “He would get trapped … because he’s so small, he can’t pass around the bigger defenders. But now he’s keeping it in the middle of the floor, and he’s doing very well.”

Maines emphasized that size remains a setback, and that McCormick will only be able to develop his skills so much unless he grows.

“Early in the year he turned it over way too much because he would get bumped, losing the basketball, where if he was bigger and weighed more, those bumps, he’s dribbling through them,” he said. “If he gets a little size, he’s going to be dynamic.”

Still, he has found ways when he can to make stature not matter. He’s become dangerous when left open for a shot, and he’s developed a penchant for emerging from the thicket of taller bodies, poking his hand in front of a pass and taking it down the court for an uncontested layup.

“I don’t think he cares,” Maines said about the nightly height disparity. “Simon’s just like ‘Let’s go.’ He’s just ready to compete.”

While he waits for the growth spurt to kick in, McCormick knows he has an identity blooming.

“I’m the smallest guy on the court, and people remember me,” he said. “They see me on the streets and they ask me if I’m that small kid on Cony.”

He laughed.

“It gets annoying at times,” he added. “And my brother, he’s in fourth grade and he’s almost taller than me. Everyone thinks he’s taller than me, but he’s not.”

Once McCormick hits the court, however, the jokes stop.

“He’s about as humble as you can get. That’s one of the reasons the older kids love him,” Maines said. “As good as he is, he does not ever act like he’s better than anybody else.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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