The way T.J. Maines remembers it, it should have been a rout on that December evening back in 1990. The Morse High School boys basketball team was hosting its annual Christmas tournament, and taking the court against it in front of 2,000 fans was Catholic Memorial High School, a powerhouse program out of Boston with talent everywhere.

“They had a kid going to Boston College, they had a kid that went Division II, they had two kids that were really high-level Division III guys,” Maines, then a senior at Morse, remembered. “And we had our team, and we were a couple of us (who) played Division III and that’s it. They should have killed us.”

Tom Maines, the Shipbuilders’ coach and T.J.’s father, didn’t believe it. And he didn’t let his players think that way, either.

“My father said ‘We’re going to press them, we’re going to do exactly what we do,’ ” said T.J., now the head coach at Cony. “We ended up winning the game. We played probably the best game I ever played and probably my teammates ever played.”

Such examples of basketball acumen and inspirational savvy were the norm from Tom Maines throughout a high school coaching career that spanned parts of five decades, and so were those kinds of signature victories. Maines turned programs into winners and Morse into a juggernaut, winning three straight Class A titles from 1987 to 1989 en route to 369 career victories, accomplishments that will see him inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Sunday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

Maines’s impact wasn’t just felt on the court. The 70-year-old’s passion for the sport ran deeper than Xs and Os, as he founded the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches, began the push for what is today the Maine McDonald’s High School All-Star Game, and linked the varsity teams with the community youth programs at each of his stops.

“It’s a wonderful feeling. I’ve said my whole career, I tried to make Maine basketball better,” Maines, a Windsor native, said of the honor. “It’s my state. I’m very proud to be a Maine resident my whole life, so it’s going to be a very proud moment for me.”

His head coaching career ran from 1973 to 2011 and included successful stints at Waterville and Madison, but he made his biggest mark at Morse from 1981-93, establishing a program that had no peer and stifled opponents with an up-tempo style that became his teams’ signature.

“He was ahead of his time,” said Dick Whitmore, who coached Colby College to over 635 wins and three ECAC championships. “Nobody taught the full-court pressing system like Tom did.”

Maines’ prowess as a coach boiled down to his skill as a teacher. His greatest asset was an ability to communicate, and to present complex schemes and concepts in a fashion that could be understood by each of his players. The key is in the details, a truth that Maines knew all too well.

“You can’t teach how to do the whole thing,” he said. “You have to break down each skill into its components, into its parts. Teach the parts, then add to the part until you get back to the skill.”

“He’s hands-down the best teacher of the game, and other coaches have said that to me,” T.J. said. “I think that’s something that separates him from everybody, his ability to break stuff down and teach it so that kids and players understand it.”

Maines knew the right way to do it, and he made sure his players did too. Players were expected to be disciplined, respectful and, above all, focused. There was no bigger sin for a player than not being ready when Maines called his name.

“You had to be dialed in. We were always changing defenses, so you really had to be paying attention to what the defense was that we were in. That was a big part of our advantage, to be able to change the level of our defense on the floor,” said Boothbay coach Brian Blethen, who played for Maines from 1989-91. “There was such a high standard, you knew what that standard was and you worked your butt off to try to meet that expectation.”

Under Maines’s leadership, Morse thrived. The Shipbuilders made the Class A final in 1986, losing to Portland, then beat Waterville, Brewer and Lawrence for consecutive titles. Morse became a renowned program throughout the region, drawing the best teams from throughout New England to its annual Christmas tournament and playing the games in front of standing-room only crowds.

“Those were awesome,” Blethen said. “He always sought out the best competition he could find to challenge us and prepare us, and to make us better. … We were always ready for games like that. Those games didn’t intimidate us, we thrived in them because of his intensity.”

It showed. From 1985-92, Morse went 27-4 in those games, then set its sights on conquering the rest of Maine come tournament time.

“There was a swagger,” T.J. said. “They knew they were good, that they had worked at it, they had put time in.”

The success continued after the championship years. When 10 seniors graduated from the final title team, leaving only three players with varsity experience, Morse kept winning anyway, going 16-2 on the strength of a feeder system that Maines set up to make sure players were being taught the proper fundamentals as early as elementary school.

And when they got to Morse, Maines ensured they got the most out of their development.

“The running and the absolute mental focus that you had to have to get through practice was insane,” T.J. said. “When you went to practice, it wasn’t fun. It was work time.”

It was demanding, but Maines knew it was the formula for success.

“First of all, you’ve got to have kids that are willing to work,” Tom said. “I’ve got to have a staff willing to coach what I want coached, I’ve got to have parents that keep their mouth shut and are willing to support us as coaches, and an administration that is wanting to achieve excellence. Good things happen when that happens.”

His career provided plenty of proof.

“You have to be lucky to win it all. You have to have everything fall right,” Maines said. “And to do it three years in a row is a great and wonderful accomplishment with a lot of people responsible. It’s certainly not an isolated thing.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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