The Maranacook bench cheers in the first half as the Black Bears take a lead over Lake Region in a Class B South semifinal game this past season in Portland. Portland Press Herald photo by Derek Davis Buy this Photo

Travis Magnusson knew he was coming into a good situation when he took over the Maranacook boys basketball team before this season. But that didn’t mean it was easy.

True, the Black Bears had talent. But Magnusson was replacing a fixture in Rob Schmidt, and he had to get a team with high expectations to adapt to his style.

Magnusson has never had a problem figuring out how to win, however. And the Black Bears in 2019-20 were no exception.

In his debut season in Readfield, Magnusson led Maranacook to 15 straight wins, a streak that culminated in a 19-3 record and a spot in the Class B championship game, where the Black Bears came a possession away from a state title.

For his work this season, Magnusson is the Central Maine boys basketball Coach of the Year. Mt. Abram’s Dustin Zamboni was also considered.

“I just loved the guys so much, I loved the team. They were so close (together),” Magnusson said after the Black Bears’ double-overtime loss to Caribou in the state final. “These two weeks meant as much to them as anything in their life. I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Magnusson won a state championship at Dirigo and led an impressive turnaround last season at Mt. Blue. But when he got to Maranacook, he had to replace four starters from a lineup that earned the No. 2 seed in B South last year and reached the regional semifinals.

From the beginning, however, Magnusson knew he had the pieces he’d need to win again.

“Coach Schmidt has done a lot for this program, and really got guys ready,” he said. “It was a great spot to come into. I don’t really look at it as a tough spot, I looked at it as a really, really good spot where there was good talent, and I couldn’t wait to work with them.”

Magnusson found a mix that featured a deep group of shooters and scorers led by Cash McClure, Tim Worster and Casey Cormier, but the Black Bears found out that playing for Magnusson means being just as good — if not better — on the other end of the court.

“He definitely pushes for hard work and toughness, and a lot of that is on defense,” Worster said. “He really likes us to work hard on defense, get stops, get our hands up. … He likes defense a lot. That’s definitely his biggest thing.”

Magnusson also made sure the Black Bears remained the same intense, up-tempo team they had become under Schmidt.

“I love playing for him,” McClure said. “Every practice is pretty intense. He likes to go, he likes to push the tempo, which is my favorite style to play. … We have a lot of sets that we need to make sure we know for crunch time.”

Magnusson can ask his players to put the work in because he does it himself.

“He’s addicted to it,” McClure said. “He probably watches 10 hours of film in two days. It’s insane.”

Throughout the season, Magnusson had his team prepared for each opponent and every situation. Most teams suffer the occasional bad night, but the Black Bears were a picture of consistency, closing out the regular season with a 12-game winning streak and seemingly improving with each quarter they played.

If there was an adjustment period at first, it was over almost as soon as it began.

“I think it’s a credit to them, they’re an easy group to get used to,” Magnusson said. “If anything, it was probably harder for them to get used to me. Not good or bad, there were just some different things, so it probably took them a little longer to get used to some of the things I was asking.” 

And when the difficult times came in the postseason, Maranacook was ready for those too. Magnusson’s demanding practices paid off as the Black Bears were poised in the big moments, from erasing an eight-point deficit in the quarterfinal win over Freeport, to besting Wells and becoming the first non-SMAA team to win the region since 2007, to somehow climbing back from a seven-point deficit with 1:13 to play to force overtime against Caribou.

“I tried to come in and do what I’ve always done,” Magnusson said. “They’ve played well in the past, we played well this year. It’s a good program. I’m happy to be here.”

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