Former Mt. Abram girls basketball coach Doug Lisherness will be inducted into the 2019 Maine Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday. Kennebec Journal file photoJust like his high school basketball teams did to opponents’ risky passes, Doug Lisherness deflects much of the praise directed toward his hall-of-fame-worthy playing and coaching careers.

But Lisherness won’t be able to prevent being in the limelight Sunday, when he will be inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I’m not just saying this, I’m sincere when I do say this, it isn’t, ‘Yeah, I’m getting inducted,’ it’s, ‘I’m the one that’s getting the limelight,'” Lisherness said. “My four years in high school we had great teams and I had unbelievable teammates. And even though near as they can tell I was the first one to ever score 2,000 points in high school, we didn’t care who scored, we wanted to win. But I had unbelievable teammates and we had a coach that was about 15-20 years ahead of his time.

“I was just very, very fortunate. They should be getting some of the credit because without my teammates and without our coach, I would never be going over there Sunday.”

Lisherness’s resume includes a standout coaching career of his own, one in which he won more than 300 games and two state championships while leading the Mt. Abram girls program.

“Just lucky to keep having the parental support and girls that wanted to get better. They just worked extremely hard,” Lisherness said. “We lost a game, it hurt them as much as it did us, as much as it did me. And that makes a huge difference right there.”

Former Strong High School teammate Roger Lambert, who will be introducing Lisherness at Sunday’s induction ceremony, said Lisherness’s addition to the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame is “long overdue.”

“One of the ironies, and in a way it’s quite complimentary, he was nominated by a competitor, Bill Gilmore, from Kingfield,” Lambert said. “So that’s quite a tribute, when a competitor 50 years later nominates you.”

LOOKING BACK

Lisherness said after 50 years he’s kind of forgotten about his high school days. Well, it’s more that he doesn’t think about them as much anymore. But with Sunday’s ceremony coming up quick, he’s “getting a little excited now.”

Lambert, who was there for the beginning of Lisherness’s storied basketball career, looked back fondly at those early days in Strong in the 1960s.

“It was a phenomenon at the time. It lifted the whole town,” Lambert said. “They previously hadn’t had a successful sports program at all, especially basketball.”

Lambert should know. He was a senior when Lisherness was a freshman, and he had lived through three losing seasons before Lisherness and his middle school coach, Larry Dubord, entered the high school program together.

“Between the change in coaching, and a new direction there, and then with Doug’s ability, we proceeded to start to play ball,” Lambert said. “And it was a sight to see. It was more fabulous to be involved with.”

Doug Lisherness, fourth from left (No. 15), was a star even as a freshman for the Strong High School boys basketball team. Morning Sentinel file photo

 

Dubord brought with him a zone press defense that he had learned from Cony coach Dick Hunt, and that sparked Strong’s ascension.

“There wasn’t very many teams that even knew what a zone press was, but because our coach was very good friends with Dick Hunt he learned this 1-2-1-1 zone press,” Lisherness said. “And to be honest with you, there was some teams that probably would have beat us fairly easily, or at least we wouldn’t have won the game, if it hadn’t been for that zone press.

“They were not used to a zone press with trapping, and that was the difference, the trapping. We just stole the ball and teams turned the ball over so many times against that zone press.”

Lisherness was a major beneficiary of those turnovers, which he used to score some of his more than 2,000 career points, making him — to the best of his knowledge — the first boy or girl in Maine to reach that mark.

But, said Lambert, the points “just don’t tell the story at all.”

“Doug was a selfless player. He was a big assist guy,” Lambert said. “He was a quiet leader on the team. There wasn’t any bravado on his part. He was confident and enthusiastic, but he was a humble player and made everybody else look better. And it started right out of the box as a freshman in that regard.”

He was also dedicated, and under Dubord in middle school he had the fundamentals hammered into his head. But he also just loved playing.

“We just played basketball all the time, summers,” Lisherness said. “Of course I coached over to Mt. Abram, for the girls, for 27 years, and I would tell them, and I don’t know if they believed me or not, but sometimes after a home game there in Strong — one of my teammates, they lived on a farm, they had a hoop up in the barn chamber, and jeepers, after a home game it would be three or four of us, four or five of us, we’d go up there and we might play till 10:30, 11 o’clock at night. Basketball was truly, it was our life, really, as far as extracurricular events went.”

Many of those home games were wins. Lisherness said he only lost six regular-season games during his four-year career, though Lambert thought the number was only five. They both agreed that three of those came in that first season.

The high-point season was Lisherness’s junior year, when Strong went undefeated during the regular season — averaging 97.4 points per game — and made it all the way to the 1967 Class D state championship before falling to Sherman 63-58.

“We used to score a lot of points. And even though I might have been the leading scorer all four years, it didn’t mean that much. It really didn’t. Not the way it does to some of the kids today,” Lisherness said. “We wanted to win, and we didn’t care who got the rebounds, who got the steals or who got the points or whatever.”

WINNING, CONTINUED

Unfortunately for Lisherness, he didn’t get to continue his playing career after graduating high school in 1968. He was drafted into the military and sent to Vietnam, where he got “quite an education.”

He played some of what he called “recreational town ball” when he got back to the States, which Lambert said was “real competitive.” Lisherness’ coaching career began with a brief stint coaching the Mt. Abram JV boys before he took over the Roadrunners girls program two years later.

“I think I coached a lot like I was coached. Most everyone will tell you I was pretty hard on the girls,” Lisherness said. “We played a lot of basketball, a lot of basketball. You had parent support right from the get-go, and we played — right up until probably the year 2000 — we probably played 30-35 games every summer, and we’d get into the tournaments with the Class A schools.”

Longtime Rangeley coach Heidi Deery told the Morning Sentinel during Lisherness’s final season in 2013 that “he pushes kids to be better than they thought they could be, and work harder than they want to.”

The push from both Lisherness and those bigger schools during the summer finally nudged the Roadrunners to the top of Class C in 1991, when Lisherness was finally able to lift a gold ball.

“It kind of set the mark for all the rest of the teams to follow because we went undefeated, we won by an average of 28 points a game during the regular season, and it didn’t drop all that much in the three games in the regional Western Maine tournament,” Lisherness said. “And everyone in the middle school, they knew if they wanted to play basketball at Mt. Abram they were going to have to work at it, and there was a lot of hoops up back in those days at home, and they were shooting, they were playing.”

Lisherness said the players’ parents deserve some of the credit for getting the program to where it was.

“All of the parents of those girls back then, they all had grown up in Strong, Phillips, Kingfield, Stratton. They all had played for the individual schools before Mt. Abram consolidated,” Lisherness said. “And I think back in that era everybody, they made the commitment, they worked hard and everything, and they expected their daughters to work hard.

“And even though I was hard on them, I probably, to be honest with you, did not have to be because the parents, most of the parents were as hard if not harder on them than I was.”

All that pushing, all that playing gave the girls skills, but also made them “court-smart,” according to Lisherness.

“They were so court wise I didn’t really have to coach them much,” he said. “They knew exactly what to do out there and when to do it. And they all, their skills — everyone of them, their skills were just incredible.”

Former Mt. Abram girls basketball coach Doug Lisherness can relax now after a 27-season tenure at the helm of the Roadrunners’ program that ended in 2013 netted more than 300 victories. Submitted photo courtesy of Doug

The Roadrunners returned to the state final in 1992, but lost. Lisherness said he thought they would keep making trips back, but that wasn’t the case.

“I’m thinking, ‘You know, to win the state championship, this isn’t all that tough, we just got to keep working hard and whatnot and we’ll be in it.’ And it did not happen again until 2007,” Lisherness said. “As a coach, it makes you realize how good, how talented those two teams were in ’91 and ’92.”

There were some down years in the decade-and-a-half between state titles, but the 2007 team, to Lisherness, had the look of another contender.

However, early in the season there were doubts and confidence issues, until a revenge win in the team’s 13th game started a roll all the way to a 55-52 victory over Dexter in the state championship.

“Winning in ’91 and then again in 2007, it makes you appreciate those games, those teams just so much,” Lisherness said. “They just don’t come along every year, and that’s what I learned.”

He said he learned early on in his coaching career that coaching didn’t come as easy to him as playing did. But he eventually learned how to sell his players on what he was preaching, and he made winning look easy at times again.

And beyond winning, Lisherness helped shape strong women, Lambert said.

“They’re an all-star group off the court, the ladies that played for Doug,” Lambert said. “I know they gained that confidence and that drive and work ethic on the court playing for Doug Lisherness.”

Lambert said it will be a “great day” on Sunday, and that he and his former teammates are looking forward to it. And Coach Dubord is going to be there, too.

“They’re giving me three minutes to tell his story,” Lambert said. “I just don’t know how that’s going to happen.”

Basketball legend Doug Lisherness takes bids for homemade goodies during an auction. Note the banner hanging on the wall behind him in the Strong school gym. Tanya Morgan photo


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