It’s become routine to see the Cony boys basketball team in the Class A postseason.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Rams made it as far as the semifinal round of the playoffs. Last season, Cony fell just short of a regional championship, falling 52-50 to Hampden Academy in the Class A North final.

But not long ago, the program was going through a dry spell in tournament play. Entering the 2014-2015 season, the Rams hadn’t played a playoff game at the Augusta Civic Center in five years. It all changed that year as Cony flipped its 2013-2014 record of 7-11 with an 11-7 season and an Eastern Class A quarterfinal appearance.

And a large reason for that success was from guard Liam Stokes.

A senior in that 2014-2015 season, Stokes averaged 18.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He also improved his shot, nailing nearly 40 percent of his 3-pointers. Stokes credited the work he did in the previous offseason to help his game.

“It was definitely a big jump, not to say my junior year was poor by any means,” Stokes said. “But there was definitely a huge development. I got a lot stronger. I was working on weight lifting and putting on some muscle. I’m not the tallest player out there, I wasn’t 6-5 or 6-6. I’m about 6-0, 6-1, and I had to put on some strength and develop my game so I could become a top player in the conference. And I just played as much as I could. I played on a few AAU teams in the spring, summer ball with the Cony team, and even in the fall, I played as well. So, the work that went in after junior year ended, up until senior year, was pretty intensive.”

Liam Stokes helped the turnaround of the Cony boys basketball team during the 2014-2015 season, leading the Rams to an Eastern Class A quarterfinal appearance. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file photo

Stokes and his teammates were also the beneficiaries of head coach T.J. Maines’ run-and-gun offense, which provided a different approach to traditional Maine high school basketball play. Instead of slowing the pace offensively and focus on post play, the Rams moved the ball quickly down the floor, and focused more on outside shooting.

“It was a lot of fun,” Stokes said. “I think I’ve talked about this with Coach Maines in the past, but I wish he let us do as much as he lets the team do now. He was still testing the waters at first — I think he (was hired) my junior year — so his first year or two with our group, we were definitely run-and-gun, but we didn’t have the green light where we could just pull up and take 3s as often as possible, which I know some of his later teams have had, like, ultimate green lights, where they can just shoot and run and gun. I wish we (could have) done that more, we had a lot of great shooters and scorers on the team. I think we could have put up a lot of points if we had the green light like that. But it was a lot of fun.

One game that stands out to Stokes during that season — and showed the Rams were turning their fortunes around — was a regular-season game against Messalonskee and its star player, Nick Mayo, who would go on to a standout Division I college career at Eastern Kentucky.

Former Cony boys basketball player Liam Stokes graduated from the University of Maine in 2019, and is currently a financial analyst for TD Bank in West Falmout. Contributed photo by Liam Stokes

“When we beat Messalonskee that year, at Messalonskee, I think I had a pretty good game, we had a pretty good game,” Stokes said. “They had Nick Mayo on the team, and Mayo and I were friends, we played AAU together. Having someone like that on their team — especially with our team, and nobody taller than 6-2 — we didn’t know how we would match up with them. We thought he might have 40 (points) and 20 (rebounds). We still found a way to win. After we beat them, I think we knew that we were at least going to be a top three or four team in the East. We played really competitively against Hampden. We almost beat Edward Little, which was the No. 1 team (in the East) that year. We didn’t get embarrassed once during the season. We definitely had confidence, especially beating a team like Messalonskee with a player like Nick Mayo on the team.”

Cony entered the Eastern Class A playoffs as the No. 5 seed and, finally, got the home court playoff game it had long worked for. The Rams would go on to lose 89-51 to Lewiston in the quarterfinals. While it wasn’t the end Stokes wanted, he’s proud of the season and the turnaround of the Cony program.

“We didn’t make it to the semifinals like some of these recent teams have, but I think we put Cony back in contention with a winning record and being competitive with pretty much every team in the state,” Stokes said. “I remember, just the way Cony boys basketball was looked at when I was coming up through the program and my freshman, sophomore and junior year, they weren’t respected, I don’t think. They hadn’t put together a winning season in a long time. It definitely means a lot to get Cony basketball back into contention. I think, obviously, that has a lot to do with Coach Maines. I’m not there anymore, a lot of the players come and go. But Coach Maines has been there for five or six years now, and has had great success. I know we started the trend, but it definitely comes down to coaching and the program that’s put in place now.”

Stokes was rewarded with postseason honors, specifically a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference first-team selection. He also got to play in the McDonald’s All-Star game that season. The loss to Lewiston would be the final game of Stokes’ career. He earned his degree in financial economics — graduating suma cum laude — at the University of Maine in 2019. Now living in Portland, Stokes is a financial analyst with TD Bank in their regional headquarters in West Falmouth.

“That’s kind of where my interests are, I’ve always been interested in the financial world,” Stokes said. “Not sure where it’s going to lead me. I like TD Bank a lot, they’re a huge bank, one of the top 10 banks in the country, the biggest bank in Canada. So the opportunities here are pretty endless. I’m just working hard, trying to make good impressions and work my way up.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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