The Nokomis boys basketball team wasn’t floundering, but head coach Ryan Martin knew it could play better. With the team’s record hovering around .500, Martin challenged the Warriors. In the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference preseason coaches poll, Nokomis was ranked third. Now they needed to play up to their expectations.

“Guys took it on themselves. They wanted to change the course and direction of the year. They didn’t want to be another one of those Nokomis teams that had good players and just didn’t do anything with it. They went out and played hard and earned everything they got,” Martin said.

After a 4-5 first half, Nokomis went 8-1 down the stretch to claim the No. 2 seed in the Class A North tournament. With a win over Erskine in the quarterfinals, Nokomis advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time in 15 years.

“(Martin) reminded us we’re entitled to nothing. Even though we had been ranked third, that just wasn’t going to come to us. If anything, that made it harder for us,” Nokomis senior Josh Smestad said.

For his work in rebuilding the Nokomis boys basketball program, Ryan Martin is the Morning Sentinel Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. Ken Lindlof of Winslow also was considered.

The 2017-18 season was Martin’s third with Nokomis. For the third consecutive season, the Warriors increased their win total, from six to 11 to 13.

“He wanted to be there. He loves basketball. He loves us as a group. It’s an honor for me to be on the team. I was just happy to play for coach Martin. He always looks at the positives. He’s always on to the next play,” senior Zach Hartsgrove said.

As Hartsgrove approached his 1,000th career point early in the season, Martin felt like the Warriors may have been benevolently pulled away from what they do best, and that may have been a factor in the team’s .500 basketball overt the first half of the season.

“I think everybody on the team wanted him to get it and tried to get him the ball. We weren’t really sharing it like we should have. Once he got that, we went 8-1 the rest of the regular season,” Martin said.

Martin cited a handful of coaches as influences, including Peter Murray, his coach at Dexter High School, and Dick Meader, the longtime men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine at Farmington, for whom Martin worked two seasons.

“That’s probably one of the best learning experiences I could have got as a young coach,” Martin said of his time learning from Meader. “With coach Meader, you can be a really nice guy and a really good coach at the same time. He’s one of the good ones.”

Another influence on Martin is Messalonskee head coach Peter McLaughlin. Martin was an assistant at Messalonskee for five seasons before moving on to Nokomis.

“He creates incredible relationships with the kids, and has that initiative to get the most out of them every time they step on the court. That’s hard to teach to a young coach.,” McLaughlin said.

Added Martin: “(McLaughlin) approaches the game with a lot of passion and fire and energy. I was very fortunate to have all those guys.”

After coaching together for so long, when Nokomis and Messalonskee play each other, it’s rare the friends will be able to surprise each other.

“Maybe once in a while we’ll throw in a little wrinkle, and they’ll be a look and a smile, ‘come on, man,'” McLaughlin said.

The Warriors season ended with a 49-44 loss to Medomak Valley in the regional semifinals, in a game Nokomis held a 16-point lead in the third quarter. The game was a learning experience for the Warriors and Martin.

“I think there’s a few things in the fourth quarter that maybe we try to do the next time. Sometimes, time and score got a way from us a little bit. I felt like I didn’t do enough in the huddle, of maybe reminding our guys,” Martin said.

Martin took another lesson from watching Virginia become the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed in the NCAA Division I men’s tournament.

“Watching the NCAA’s, watching Tony Bennett (Virginia coach) get beat, I thought he said it best. When you go out there, you’ve got to accept the consequences. There can be a great win, or a really tough loss. I felt our guys dealt with that, and that’s another lesson for me. You’ve got to enjoy the experience, and we had a great year,” Martin said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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