BRUNSWICK — When you think about the all-time great high school basketball teams in Maine, the 2002 Brunswick boys team is going to cross the mind. 

The Dragons didn’t lose a single game that season, and defeated another all-time squad in Deering by 23 in the Class A state title game, 83-60.

“The season before, we kind of came out of nowhere and went 17-1, but our season ended abruptly,” said Todd Hanson, who has been the head coach since 1996. “We went into the next season hungry, and had a different approach on how we looked at things.”

The season prior, the Dragons advanced to the Class A semifinals before bowing out to Westbrook. Going into the 2002 season, Brunswick was returning most of their starting lineup and was locked in on the season.

“Something that I will always remember is how locked in we were,” said Adam Williams, who graduated in 2003. “We were so focused, whether it was outside of school, in practice or in games, it seemed like nothing was going to distract us.”

Hanson recalled the team “scoreboard and standings watching” during the 2001 season, but things were different when 2002 rolled around.

“We didn’t look at the standings until the playoffs came. I think that it was due to our experience from the previous season and knowing that it was only a distraction,” Hanson explained. “We just took it one game at a time.”

While the roster was highlighted by two standouts in Ralph Mims and Danny Hammond, the Dragons had several key players that found their role around the two stars. 

“Our depth was underlooked by the rest of the state, we had 12 guys on our team that probably would have started in almost any other team in the state,” said Drew Pelletier, a key scoring guard who came off the bench.  “The best games we had were in practice because of the level of talent on our team, it became intense at times but it was those types of practices that made us better as a team.”

Going into the 2002 season, the Dragons were invited to play at a preseason tournament in Boston called the Stop N Shop Classic, with teams from all around the country participating. The Dragons went 0-2 in the tournament, losing to teams for Louisiana and Florida. Hanson thinks that the losses in Boston opened eyes on the team.

“It helped our guys see that there was more to basketball outside of Maine, and it set our bar to strive to be the best even higher than before,” Hanson said.  

Prior to the start of the season, Brunswick switched conferences, going from Western Class A to Eastern Class A. It didn’t affect much of their schedule since they were already in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, but it did change their opponents in the postseason. Because of the switch, the Dragons seemingly flew under the radar while racking up win after win. 

“Everyone was focused on the West, and if Deering was going to rebound from their loss in the 2001 state final,” said Pelletier. “We had the confidence that we could beat any team going into the tournament.”

The Dragons coasted through the regular season to a perfect 18-0 record, but the team knew the job wasn’t finished. 

Brunswick ‘s Drew Pelletier takes a shot over Deering’s Robert Balanger, left, and Matt Nichols during the Class A championship game on March 16, 2002 at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. John Ewing/Portland Press Herald file photo

Hammond, who was unavailable for comment, was a senior and the leader of the team. Hanson recalls seeing Hammond’s attitude change when the regular season concluded. 

“Danny is one of the best leaders I have ever coached, he led us through that season and playoff run and took a lot of pressure off of me and the other players,” Hanson explained. “He took initiative during the postseason and gave everything he had everytime we got together as a team.”

Hammond’s impact was undeniable. Mike Lobikis, a member of the starting five, recalled his actions in practice. 

“Danny would get into guys faces to make them better, I remember he grabbed Ralph by the shirt one time and coached him up,” said Lobikis. “Every great team has a guy like Danny, he just happened to also be one of the top two players on the team.”

Brunswick boys basketball coach Todd Hanson watches a practice during the 2001-2002 season at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland. Doug Jones/Portland Press Herald file photo

The Dragons were the No. 1 seed in the Class A East playoffs, and drew the defending state champion in No. 8 Bangor in the quarterfinals. The Dragons ousted the Rams 81-49, moving on to Mt. Blue in the semifinal round. The Cougars provided the toughest test to date for the Dragons, but they were not to be denied once again, edging Mt. Blue 53-45 behind 25 points from Mims to earn a spot in the regional final.

“The game against Mt. Blue was a battle from start to finish,” said Williams. “We grinded it out and felt like we were sharpening the iron as we moved deeper into the tournament.”

The Dragons would defeat Cony in the regional final to set up a date with Deering, headlined by Nik Caner-Medley and Walter Phillips.

“The hype was there, we were ready to go at the biggest stage that the state has to offer,” said Mims, who was just a sophomore at the time. “We went into that game knowing there was absolutely no chance of us walking away as the runner-ups.”

Brunswick went into the game with the underdog mentality, and embraced being no one’s pick to take home the Gold Ball.

“We had a chip on our shoulders and our leaders did their job, this is what we had been working for and no one was going to take it from us,” said Pelletier.

Indeed, no one took it from them. Despite a combined 45 points from Caner-Medley (26) and Phillips (19), the Dragons rose to the occasion and won their first boys basketball state championship in school history. Mims finished the game with 31 points, including making 13-17 free throws. Hammond added 24 points and Pelletier had 18, with 12 of those coming in the second half. The town of Brunswick erupted with community and school spirit after the championship game win.

“Brunswick is known for being a soccer powerhouse, so to ascend to a high level in basketball brought our community together even more,” said Hanson. “I had people coming up to me and shaking my hand to congratulate me five years later.”

While the 2002 team is now 18 years in the past, Hanson and the players still keep in close contact. All of the former players are now in their mid 30s, but vividly remember the lessons and memories they experienced from Hanson while on the team.

“We all still keep in touch, and that says a lot about Coach Hanson and how he runs his program,” said Pelletier. 

“The importance of leadership really stands out when I reflect on those years, and Hanson was the perfect leader for us,” Williams said. “His passion for the game is undeniable, and he cares about each player that has played for him. Twenty years later and he’s still the exact same.” 

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