WINTHROP — It was one of the more memorable games in recent Maine high school basketball history. It also sparked a tradition that, to this day, binds two programs separated by nearly 100 miles.

More than six years have passed since Jarrod Chase’s 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left gave the George Stevens Academy boys a 47-44 win over Winthrop in the Class C state final. Since then, the Eagles have come to Winthrop every year to play in the Ramblers’ annual preseason tournament.

“We’ve kind of created a relationship through the state game, even through the heartbreak of that for us; they’ve always been here,” Winthrop head coach Todd MacArthur said. “It’s a neat matchup of North C vs. South C that gives you a good gauge of where the North is vs. the South.”

Interesting matchups happen all over the state this time of year at these tournaments, which at Winthrop marked the end of the first full week of winter practices. They’re signs that programs aren’t afraid of being tested even in the season’s infancy and that the Maine basketball scene is growing more connected. 

There’s a natural level of difficulty that comes with November basketball. With most teams having just held tryouts Monday and even Tuesday, nobody is truly jelling or in prime form. After all, some athletes were focusing on other sports as recently as a week ago with the fall season still ongoing.

That used to scare some teams away from preseason tournaments, with coaches opting to have their players hone their own skills in the early stages of practice. In recent years, though, Cony Athletic Director and former head boys coach T.J. Maines has noticed the opposite.


Winthrop’s Chan Ring shoots against George Stevens Academy during Saturday’s scrimmage in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Some people have a philosophy that they don’t like to — they’d rather have a double-session practice — but it seems like more and more teams are going this route now,” Maines said. “I think you’re seeing more coaches say, ‘OK, let’s play, try to get something out of it and see what we need to work on.’”

Cony also hosted a play day Saturday with three boys teams (Cony, Mount View, Scarborough) and three girls teams (Cony, Hall-Dale, Greely). Winthrop hosted GSA, Maranacook, Lake Region and Waynflete on the boys side and Maranacook, Lake Region, Mt. Blue and Spruce Mountain in girls action. 

It’s only the start of what’s an action-packed preseason state locally and across the state. Skowhegan also hosted a tournament Saturday with Monmouth Academy, Winslow and Spruce Mountain in on the action. Lawrence and South Portland are set to host large tournaments next weekend.

Such events are giving teams more exposure to new opponents. The Cony boys would never get a chance to play Scarborough during the regular season, whereas the GSA boys’ games against Winthrop and Maranacook give the Eagles different opponents.

“I like to play these western Maine teams because I feel like the preseason in western Maine is a little more physical, and I think it’s important for us to match up with that,” GSA head coach Dwayne Carter said. “We’ve been coming here ever since that (2017 title) game. It’s great exposure, and we can look at the film and fix things.”

Although facing top preseason opponents forces younger teams to grow up fast, playing in such games can also produce some promising results at times. Such was with the Winthrop boys, who shot well and claimed a 56-43 win over GSA despite a roster without a single senior.


The tough action also gets young teams acquainted to new environments. For the Maranacook girls, for instance, everything about the 2023-24 season is different; the Black Bears are in a new region (Class B North) and conference (Mountain Valley Conference) as they return only one player from last season.

“I think (what you try to get out of it) is based on what you have,” Maranacook head coach Karen Magnusson said. “For a team like mine that returns one kid and has kids getting minutes they’ve never experienced, let’s just get the reps; let’s get the jitters out and start to feel what a varsity game feels like.”

Communication, Magnusson added, was the point of emphasis for her young group Saturday. Yet for more experienced teams that return their core players, she said, the early games are chances to build on chemistries and strategies that emerged last season or even in years prior.

It might not be the cleanest basketball, but it never is in late November — nor do coaches want to be when a deep February run is the goal. Regardless, programs are more comfortable than ever scheduling such games in the buildup to the season, and they’re also confident their teams are better off for it.

“It forces us to do some new things and gives us some more things to work on for next week,” Carter said. “For us, it’s only Day 4 — we had tryouts for three days and then had one practice — so we’re still trying to figure some stuff out. I think (tournaments like these) really help us do that.”

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