He had played in high school and college, and started his coaching career.

But when the boys varsity basketball head coaching position opened up at Gardiner, Aaron Toman knew it was the job he’d been waiting for.

“When I was in high school, I thought about coming back and coaching,” he said. “I saw the Gardiner opening, and I had to apply for it.”

It was a good decision. Toman in September became the new head coach of the Tigers, filling a position that was opened when Jason Cassidy stepped down in July.

“It’s pretty surreal. It’s a dream come true,” Toman, 24, said. “I feel honored and humbled to really have the chance to come back to my hometown and coach. … I love Gardiner, and I’m just excited to get started.”

He’s not the only one happy with the hiring. Athletic director Nate Stubbert said that from the beginning of the process — maybe even before — the school had a good feeling about Toman, a former post player and Kennebec Journal Player of the Year who led the Tigers to the 2008 Class B championship game.

“Every time I would go to athletic director meetings or anywhere where other coaches were, it happened a number of times, people would come up to me and just out of the blue, without even me bringing up his name, would have such great things to say about this kid,” Stubbert said. “How he’s experienced beyond his years … how he just did a fantastic job working with kids.”

Toman graduated from Gardiner in 2012, played at the University of Southern Maine for four years, and then spent two years as a coach at Cheverus, coaching basketball as well as soccer and baseball. “I always knew I wanted to stay involved with the game when I was done playing,” said Toman, who teaches STEM at Memorial Middle School in South Portland. “I fell in love with coaching.”

He coached his first team at the Portland school — the equivalent of a freshman team, with sophomores allowed to play as well — and had been named a varsity assistant when the Gardiner job opened.

Now that he’s there, Toman said he’s planning on conducting a team that minimizes mistakes and makes good decisions in big moments.

“I’m a big believer in fundamentals. We want to be fundamentally sound, in all aspects of the game,” he said. “We want to be smart. I think having basketball players who don’t just play the game but understand the game, can read the game, can learn the game, is of real high priority.”

Toman said he believes his age will help him relate with his team and ensure that his philosophies are being carried out.

“I think so,” he said. “I’m not too, too far out from high school. I think my age and my personality will really help me connect with my players.”

He doesn’t just want that connection with his team. Toman said a key part of the job’s allure was being able to connect to the whole town.

“It was definitely having a chance to come back to Gardiner and give back to the community that gave me so much growing up,” he said. “Having a chance to coach in the community that raised me and molded me is pretty special.”

Toman is hoping that enthusiasm will extend beyond him and to the players as well, both those on the team and coming up through the system.

“That’s what I’m hoping our program will do, is connect with the community,” he said. “Having that Gardiner basketball community, where I’m available to help out our youth programs and our middle school programs. My guys are available to help coach or referee or just be faces in the crowd, be faces in the community, so it feels like a big family.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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