THP #7: The Edge

January 11, 2020 – Medford, Massachusetts
Lesley vs UMass-Boston
Men’s Basketball

Welcome to the edge. Take one step further and you fall down the abyss. This is the farthest reaches of college basketball. The Kuiper Belt. This is a place where most do not think to tread.

This is Lesley University’s men’s basketball facility. This is the gym at Medford High School.

To understand how I found myself walking around a brutalist concrete building in the northern suburbs of Boston on a hot January afternoon we must first understand the unique identity of Lesley.

Lesley University is located in Cambridge and has roughly 7,400 students but only 2,600 undergraduates. Among its academic offerings, there are programs in specific areas such as expressive therapies, counseling, and fine arts. It isn’t a school driven by its athletic teams.

The school is also located four miles from Medford High, and getting through the Boston traffic can make that drive take almost 40 minutes. Add all these variables into the pot together and you get a team that is winless and a program that has two winning seasons in the last 14.

I chatted with the school’s custodian on my way out of the gym and he told me that Lesley paid to put down a full hardwood court to keep in line with NCAA guidelines as MHS had a rubber court. The track surrounding the court is still rubber.

But at least there’s a Lesley logo on the court.

Getting In

One would think that the best way into a high school would be through the front door. Not today. There was some type of weekend school program so I was told to walk around to the back of the school.

So I did. I walk to the door and went in only to be met by a locked door in the inner vestibule.

Back out I went. It was up a 43-step staircase and through the loading dock before I found a door propped open by a chair and heard the ever-familiar noise of Jordans squeaking on hardwood. I had finally made it.

The Game

There was a curtain drawn midway through the gym and a youth league playing on the other side.

About 10 minutes before tipoff a ref walks over to me as I sit courtside at the midline and jokingly asks how I was able to afford these seats. I responded, laughed, stayed for the first few minutes and moved to the top row. I found $2 under the bleachers so at least the expedition netted me a future Fresca.

There were 25 people in the stands at tipoff.

Lesley basketball is not good. The men’s program is winless this season and won nine or fewer games seven times last decade. The Lynx lost their first two games of the season by nine and 11 points, respectively and have lost the ensuing games by an average of 35.5 points.

And this game went to script. UMass-Boston showed why it’s one of the top teams in the Little East this year. The Beacons jumped out early and never let up. A 10-point lead ballooned to 15 and to 20. UMass Boston won 90-64.

Dasan Cinelli finished with 30 points while Malik Lorquet had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by the Lynx either. Chase Howard had 27 points on 8-13 shooting. Kostas Tatsis had 14 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes off the bench. But being minus-15 on the glass and shooting 19-66 will do in anyone.

Time of game: 1:42

THP #6: 4.2 Miles

January 9, 2020 – Beverly, Massachusetts
Endicott v Gordon
WBB/MBB

Sometimes you love your neighbors. Sometimes you want to constantly express your displeasure at their existence.

For Endicott College and Gordon College, close quarters does not make for a pleasant relationship. Located a 12-minute drive apart up Route 127 and through Pride’s Landing and Beverly Farms, it’s exclusively mutual disdain and contempt between the Gulls and the Fighting Scots.

It’s made more intense by the recent success of the two programs. On the men’s side, one of the two schools has made every conference title game since 2012. Gordon also won the league in 2010.

On the women’s side, Endicott was the league runner up in 2019.

Even though the students were away on break, the games drew a nice crowd. This year had the added touch of featuring some of the greatest players either school had ever seen.

The Venue

Located in Beverly, Mass., Endicott College was founded in 1939 and has since grown to be a school of just more than 5,000 people.

Today the school hangs its hat on its internship program as every Endicott student is required to put in thee internships, which means they are learning experientially almost immediately after getting to campus.

Fun fact: Beverly Hills is named after Beverly Farms, the neighborhood where Endicott is located, as it was a favorite vacation spot for then-president William Howard Taft.

The Gulls basketball teams today play at the Post Center. As with many Division III schools, the Post Center is an athletics venue and a student rec center as well as a place for classes and meetings.

A neat quirk of Endicott athletics is that club sports are outwardly treated just as prominently as varsity sports. The club teams get their own tabs on the athletic site just like the varsity teams.

Club teams even get banners in the gym after winning championships.

The Women’s Game

As many Division III schools do in New England, the basketball teams play doubleheaders as a way to cut down on travel costs.

Tonight, the women led off and Gordon was led by Meghan Foley. The day this game was played she was the leading female scorer in all of Division III and the third-leading scorer across the entire NCAA.

As of this writing she has dropped to second and fourth in those categories, but 25.1 points a game is nothing to sneeze at. The native of Malden, Mass. is going to finish as the program’s second-leading scorer.

Meghan Foley (in blue)

And on this night she was a machine. Foley went for 19 points in the first half as the Fighting Scots raced to a 14-point lead.

 

Endicott made it exciting in the second half and even cut it to a one-score game, but they didn’t have Meghan Foley. Foley finished with 33. It was her third-best scoring performance of the season.

Gordon 90, Endicott 82. Final
Time of game – 1:30

The Men’s Game

When it comes to the best scorers in men’s college basketball, the name that instantly comes up is Markus Howard. The Marquette senior has been a scoring machine in his time in Milwaukee and, as of this writing, leads Division I in scoring with 27.3 points a game.

Gordon senior Eric Demers is averaging 33.6 a game. He is currently the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,974 points with 10 games left in the season. And he’s not even the only all-time leading scorer in the game.

Endicott senior Keith Brown has been a ridiculous scorer his whole career. A two-time state champion at Pelham High in Pelham, NH, Brown can reasonably hit a shot from anywhere inside the halfcourt line.

Averaging 21 points a game, as of this writing, Brown sits less than 100 points away from breaking Kamahl Walker’s school record of 1894 and is also an excellent facilitator.

Brown grew from a bench player his freshman year on a Sweet 16 team to a star. He’s scoring less as a senior than as a sophomore, but those dimes are adding up into dollars for the Gulls.

And both players stepped up in what turned out to be a ridiculous game. Brown flashed his court vision and cashed in some dimes.

Gordon led 39-36 at half. Demers had a rough first half with 12 points on 5-14 shooting. Brown had 15.

Now, once the teams flipped ends Demers put the game in his pocket. His second half was 16 points on 5-11 shooting and 4-8 from three. Just look at the nonsense he was pulling out of universe.

It was ridiculous. Forty minutes couldn’t contain the game. Tied at 76, five more was put on the board.

The OT was as nip/tuck as regulation. In the final minute, Endicott found themselves up 86-83 and then this happened.

With the game tied at 86, Endicott was unable to score the ball and gave Gordon a chance to escape Post with a win, and it appeared they did with a layup at the horn by Parker Omslaer.

However, a foul was called. Two made free throws by Endicott with a second left did the trick. Endicott 88, Gordon 86. Final.

Do you think it was a foul?

Eric Demers: 31 points
Keith Brown: 28 pts, 6 rbd, 5 ast, 7 stl

Time of game – 1:44

THP #5: A Eulogy

January 8, 2019
Springfield College @ Babson College MBB
Wellesley, Massachusetts

The first time I ever walked into Staake Gymnasium was December 10, 2015. I was there to disappear.

Four days earlier my mentor, my boss, my friend Bruce had died. He was battling back from cancer and everything seemed to be going well until everything went wrong permanently.

I heard the news third-hand from a friend via a Facebook message. I sat across from my girlfriend of two months, now fiancee, rifling through tweet after tweet confirming it. I wept. She held me.

I never got to say a goodbye to Bruce. We would chat regularly about work and pro wrestling and the bullshit of life. Eighteen years my senior, Bruce was the kind of guy who made you feel at ease while also keeping you honest.

A mutual friend once invited me to join them for drinks. I declined. I don’t regret much in this world, but that’s one of them.

I admired the man and am grateful to have worked with and beside him over the last few years of his life. It was a life lived with no parachute. He once told me that he didn’t expect to see the age of 50. He said that he lived his life as he wanted and when the time came it would come.

I told him it was nonsense. He passed at 42.

Bruce was just a sports writer and so much more at the same time. He gave a shit. Whether you were an Olympian or some high school sophomore playing two minutes a night, Bruce cared.  It’s why his wake was attended by hundreds. He left a mark, and they came to pay respects.

Death leaves holes. People tell you that time heals them and that you move on. You never move on; you change direction. The emotional scar remains forever. You continue growing and expanding your world, and that scar stays with you the whole time.

I miss Bruce. I’d love to ask him so many things. I’d love to listen to him again. I’d love to sit in some hockey rink somewhere solving the problems of the world. I miss my friend.

It was in that emotional swirl that I first came to Babson to watch basketball.

Division III basketball is one of my happiest places. A place untainted by the mass corporatization of sports. A place where five dollars can get you into an NCAA tournament game. A place hidden in plain sight.

It’s a home for me. And considering where I was I wanted to feel home. The game did not disappoint.

I’ll never forget that night. I’ll never forget Bruce. Pain and hurt are side effects of love and respect, and I will gladly pay that price.

The Game

Follow Division III basketball enough and you’ll notice a trend: quality shooters. The level of shooting in Division III can match most D1 players at its height.The difference between top and bottom is greater than in Division I, but the quality is there.

When I think of D-III baksetball I think of Aaron Toomey (Amherst), Marcos Echevarria (Nichols) and Babson’s Joey Flannery, who graduated in 2017 with 2,620 points, two final fours, and a national title.

Enter Jake Ross. The 6’4 senior from Springfield College is averaging 27.4 points and 11 rebounds a game this season, and on this night it will be a tall task as he takes the #25-ranked Pride to play the #14-ranked Beavers. It’s a league game too. Both play in the NEWMAC (New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference).

Staake Gymnasium (pronounced STAH-key), is a small place. Banners hang about and a short running track loops the hardwood from the floor above. A few joggers log laps during the contest.

The game itself is a banger by any measure. Babson leads 40-39 at halftime thanks to 20 points from Andrew Jaworski. His 14.5 a game is a solid number but he was playing in a  different universe.He finished with 32

Ross had the quietest 10 points you’ll ever see.

The second half, though, was different. Springfield jumped to a quick lead and maintained it. Ross heated up.

The lead flipped nine times in the final 20 minutes.

Ross had two free throws late to put the Pride up four. And it was Ross who pulled down the rebound on a Crew Ainge three at the horn, that would have tied it, to seal the win.

Springfield 84, Babson 81. Final.

Admission Price: Free
Time of Game: 1:30

THP #4: More Maine, More Bears

November 23, 2019 – Brunswick, Maine
Bowdoin vs Maine Maritime
Men’s Basketball

The eighth-largest city in The Great State of Maine, Brunswick is everything you think of in a New England town.

With a population of just over 20,000 people, Brunswick is large enough to be more than a speck on a map and still small enough to feel like a tightly intertwined community.

And in the middle of it all is Bowdoin College. One of the highest-ranked liberal arts schools in the country, Bowdoin is both elite academically as well as athletically.

Chartered in 1794, Bowdoin is so old that it was initially a college in Massachusetts before the territory for what we now know as Maine broke away into its own state.

Downtown Brunswick

Brunswick has been an industrial hub in the Pine Tree State for centuries. The first cotton mill in Maine opened here in 1809.

Located on the Androscoggin River, Brunswick has been home to numerous industries since the Industrial Revolution from shipbuilding and quarry work to soap production.

Beyond its importance to business in Maine, Brunswick also plays a key role in literary history as well due to the town being the location where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote the famous novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Things to Eat

The Brunswick Diner

When it comes to good eats in Brunswick the place to go is The Brunswick Diner. Located on Route 1 next to a gas station and across from a Dunks, the diner is a tiny little thing painted bright red that looks straight out of a bygone era.

Holding just a handful of booths, and a long bar, the Brunswick Diner is everything you could ask from a cherished local spot.

The cramped quarters of the Brunswick Diner

When in Maine you go seafood and I went with the classic fried fisherman’s platter. Crispy. Savory. The best possible kind of lunch.

My stepfather joined me on the trip and he went with the burger. The diner classic was elevated by freshly fried crinkle cuts.

Fried fish done right.
Burger & fry

Oh, and did I mention that every table comes with a jukebox and it’s only a quarter a play? I may have played the Monster Mash more than once because that song deserves to escape its October prison.

That wonderful jukebox

A small side hustle within The Hoops Project is my quest to find the top chocolate chip cookie in New England. Brunswick has a cafe that can definitely contend in Little Dog.

A chewy, quality chocolate chip cookie is only a few bucks and definitely worth it. It misses the salty quality from the current #1 at Fork and Spoon in Bangor, but this was a damn good cookie and it should be enjoyed when you’re in downtown.

The wonderful cookie

 

Things to Do

While the downtown of Brunswick is a wonderful time with numerous eateries and shops, the most marquee attractions are the museums on Bowdoin’s campus.

Named for Bowdoin graduates, and Arctic explorers Robert Peary and Donald MacMillan, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is located in Hubbard Hall and is the only museum dedicated to Arctic studies in the lower 48 states.

Hubbard Hall

However, I didn’t know this museum existed until I was leaving the museum right next to it to head to the game. Lucky for me, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art is one of the best damn art museums in New England.

Like the Arctic museum, the art museum is open six days a week and has free admission and it is spectacular.

The exterior of the art museum

The museum is the perfect mix of diversity and accessibility. You can fully go through the galleries in under two hours, it’s an almost perfect museum.

On display this day was a variety of works from ancient Chinese jade carvings to Assyrian granite imprints to portraits of Thomas Jefferson.

Beyond the major heavyweights, there were galleries dedicated to landscape art, drawings and etchings of cities in Maine, and portraits and sculpture. They even had a work by my favorite New England artist, Winslow Homer.

I really can’t recommend this place enough. It’s esoteric, peaceful, and a great way to spend a few hours. And they let me take pictures in the galleries so I can bring some of the art to you.

The seven-foot tall Relief of the Winged Spirit of Apkallu
Portrait of Frida Kahlo by Walter Pach (1933)
The Torrent of Romsdal, Norway by Alexander Ferdinand Wust (1869)
The Fountains at Night, World’s Columbian Exposition by Winslow Homer. (1893)

The Campus

Bowdoin has a beautiful, quaint campus that sprawls for 207 acres. With an enrollment of just under 1900 students, the college does not offer postgraduate degrees, Bowdoin’s campus looked beautiful even on a cold afternoon in late November.

The most striking building on campus is the chapel. With it’s dual spires reaching into the sky, the chapel is located in the heart of the campus. Built in 1855, the chapel holds Mass, memorial services, and can be rented for wedding ceremonies. Its excellent acoustics have made it a prominent recording/performance space as well.

The Bowdoin Chapel

The Game

The Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness

Like the other schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, Bowdoin excels in sports. It’s men’s hockey team plays in a state-of-the-art 2,000 seat arena, the women’s basketball team is among the best in Division III, and the lacrosse teams contend at a national level on a regular basis.

Today it was the men taking the court at Morrell Gym, a compact room sitting 1500 people located inside the Buck Center.. Home to the Polar Bears since 1965, Morrell is a box. It’s small yet intimidating due to the way the second tier of bleachers just seems to rise up from the court.

The Bowdoin volleyball team also calls Morrell home.

Morrell Gym

The game itself was breezy but not competitive. It felt like Bowdoin was nearly a head taller at almost every position in comparison to Maine Maritime and it showed on the court.

Bowdoin outrebounded the Mariners 40-29 and 15-3 on the offensive glass. The Polar Bears scored the first 11 points of the game, led by 17 at halftime, and rolled to a 67-44 win.

Bowdoin had three guys with double-doubles: Stephen Ferraro (14 pts, 10 rbd), Xander Werkman (10 pts, 11 rbd), Sam Grad (12 pts, 10 rbd). Werkman did his damage in just 22 minutes of action.

Nicholas DePatsy was the lone Mariner in double figures with 10 points.

 

Time of game: 1:23
Attendance: 312
Price of admission: Free

Final Breakdown

Of all the places I’ve been to for college sports in New England, Brunswick is near the top of the pile. It has a charm and a warmth that I love. It’s cozy. It’s fun. A little of everything.

It’s also easy to get to. Just 90 minutes north of Boston up Route 95, Bowdoin is a quick drive and absolutely worth it. Of my three trips into Maine so far Brunswick has felt like the place I would feel most comfortable settling down in and raising a family.

Up next: The first dual-venue school

THP #3: Wtorek w Małej Polsce (Tuesday in Little Poland)

November 19,2019 – New Britain, Connecticut
New Hampshire vs Central Connecticut State
Men’s Basketball

New Britain. The Hardware City. The eighth-most populated city in The Nutmeg State.

New Britain has seen a laundry list of sports stars start their rise to prominence within its borders. From Lamar Odom and Walter Camp to George Springer and Tebucky Jones, New Britain has always been one of Connecticut’s great sports cities.

Located 20 minutes southwest of Hartford, New Britain has found ways to change and adapt since its incorporation.

Known as “The Hardward Capital of the World” during the early 20th century, New Britain was home to the invention of the wire coat hanger in 1869.

More importantly to this blog, New Britain has a claim to be the birthplace of the basketball dribble at the local YMCA, which is where racquetball was said to be created as well.

The city features a long connection to the Polish diaspora. Nearly a fifth of the city’s population claims polish ancestry, second only to a large Puerto Rican population in the diverse city.

Take a ride through Little Poland with me.

Things to Eat

With a large Polish community comes Polish restaurants, and New Britain doesn’t disappoint.

Staropolska is a diner right on Broad Street that serves all the Polish delights.

There was really only one choice for me: pierogis.

Served with a side of pickled cabbage and topped with fried onions, these fried cheese-and-potato dumplings fill you up. My cholesterol was a bit mad, but I didn’t much care.

Beyond the Polish delicacies, there are numerous places to get a good bit in New Britain. However, one stands above the rest and is a local institution: Capitol Lunch.

In business since 1929, Capitol Lunch has a menu that basically boils down to four things: hot dogs, burgers, fries, and onion rings.

The hot dogs are what made the place famous and you gotta get one with everything. Everything means cheese, onions, and a big ladle of Capitol’s homemade meat sauce. It’s one of the least pretentious and best meals you can get in New England.

And a dog costs $2.29. Can’t beat that.

Things to Do

Two of the great landmarks in town are Walnut Hill Park and the New Britain Museum of American Art.

Designed by Frederick W. Olmstead, the same man who designed Central Park, Walnut Hill Park rises above New Britain. Atop the hill sits a striking 90-foot-high column capped by two sculpted eagles that stands as a monument to World War 1.

There are other monuments in the park, including a large stone memorializing the accomplishments of women during the wars of the 20th century.

The World War 1 Monument
The Women’s Monument

Tucked at the bottom of the hill is the New Britain Museum of American Art. Opened in 1903, the museum features pieces from Thomas Cole, Georgia O’Keeffe, and New Britain’s own Sol LeWitt.

Located just off of downtown, it’s absolutely worth a stop when you’re in New Britain. For a $15 ticket, and roughly 90-100 minutes to take it all in, it’s a great place to take in quality art at a bargain of a price.

And they allowed me to take pictures so I’m able to bring some of the art to you.

Welders at Electric Boat Company by Beatrice Lavis Cuming
Jane Jackson by Elihu Vedder. Yes, a distant relative of Eddie.
Head of an Algerian (Moorish Prince) by Elizabeth Nourse

And lastly, take in the raw size and scope of Thomas Hart Benton’s The Arts of Life in America

The Campus

Central Connecticut State is the largest school in the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system. The four-university system encompasses the state-run universities outside of the UConn system.

The oldest publicly-funded university in The Nutmeg State, CCSU has an undergraduate enrollment of roughly 9,500 students and the most popular programs at the school are business and marketing.

Athletically, the Blue Devils are strong in women’s soccer and the football team won the Northeast Conference title in 2017 and 2019.

A few prominent athletic alums from the school include former Dallas Cowboys coach Dave Campo, NFL executive Scott Pioli, and former Boston College football coach Steve Addazio.

The main athletics building is Kaiser Hall which also hosts Detrick Gymnasium, home of the basketball teams. The gym is named for Bill Detrick who coached the Blue Devils to 469 wins over 29 seasons and made six Division II tournaments while at the helm.

The gym sits 2,654 and has been the home of the Blue Devils since 1965.

Kaiser Hall
Detrick Gymnasium

The Game

The Blue Devils played host to the New Hampshire Wildcats in a game located at the seventh level of Kenpom. The Blue Devils entered with a Kenpom ranking of 348 while UNH was 314.

Everything seemed well early for the home team as they were up eight points halfway through the first half. However, the Wildcats flipped it to a five-point lead of their own by halftime and cruised through the final 20 to earn a 77-63 win.

Despite coming against a winless team, the game was deeply important for UNH. It was a road win. Last season the Wildcats didn’t pick up their first road win until February.

New Hampshire’s offense last year was abysmal and has bounced back this season thanks to a strong and experienced sophomore class and a key transfer guard in Sean Sutherlin.

Last year they missed the America East tournament. This year, the Wildcats are going to be a nuisance come conference play.

Time of game: 1:49
Lowest admission price: $8
Attendance: 1,274
Top Performer: Jayden Martinez (UNH) – 22 points, 15 rebounds.

The Final Breakdown

What a neat trip this was. My first two stops were in Maine and had almost a dream-like quality to them, especially driving to Fort Kent and the top of America.

New Britain felt more familiar. It reminded me of the mill towns of Northern Massachusetts where I grew up and its strong diaspora communities were on full display everywhere I went.

Connecticut gets a weird reputation in New England as its northeast corner sits in the outer suburbs of Boston while its southwest corner is very much in the sphere of New York City so its identity gets pulled both ways.

But New Britain is very much a city that’s been worn in by the hills and valleys of time. That’s the type of place I prefer over the well-manicured lawns of some of the other college towns I’ll go to in my travels.

Even if you can’t make it to CCSU, definitely stop by in New Britain the next time you’re driving up Route 84. The hot dogs and pierogis are worth it.

Previous Stops
1: Maine Fort-Kent
2: The University of Maine

Up Next: Fuzzy Bears and Claude Monet

THP #2: The Downeast Queen

November 3, 2019 – Bangor, Maine
University of Maine vs McGill men’s basketball

Almost the exact halfway point between Boston and Quebec City, Bangor sits in the heart of Central Maine with the Penobscot River running right through town

The Queen City of the East is gorgeous. Even on a chilly New England fall day, downtown Bangor stood out.

The third-largest city in the state of Maine, Bangor was once the lumber capital of the east coast. In the 1860s, Bangor was the world’s largest lumber port with more than 3,000 ships passing through the docks each year.

The glory of the lumber years is long past but the city still stands bright today thanks in part to being home to Husson College and the nearby University of Maine.

Most importantly, it’s pronounced bain-gore and not banger.

Come take a ride with me through downtown Bangor.

Things to Eat

Bangor is a sneaky good food town. With the two colleges nearby, there are bound to be good food stops and they do not disappoint.

I had dinner at Dysart’s. Wow. It’s like an IHOP type of restaurant but 10/10. Quality ingredients. Homemade soups and breads. You can tell it’s a place that take’s pride in the food that comes out of the kitchen.

One thing you’ll notice about the food reviews in these blogs are the three C’s: Clubs, Caesars, and Cookies. I’m on a quest to find the best Caesar salad in New England and a cookie and a club sandwich can say so much more about the quality of a restaurant than a fancy dish can.

With that said, you’re going to have a tough time trying to find a better cookie in New England than at Fork & Spoon in the heart of Bangor. The size of a small car tire, they satisfy in a way that Chips Ahoy could only dream of.

Homemade vegetable soup at Dysart’s
Turkey Club with the goodies at Dysart’s
Dysart’s blueberry pie. Yes, homemade.
The birthday cake cookie from Fork & Spoon

The University

The University of Maine is the flagship of the state’s university system and is located in Orono which is about 20 minutes north of Bangor. With an enrollment of roughly 11,000, U-Maine is also the state’s lone Division I athletics program.

Academically, the University of Maine is one of a select number of space grant universities that get federal grants to study and research the cosmos. Additionally, Maine is home to one of the nation’s oldest honors college and is the birthplace of the Phi Kappa Phi honors society.

When it comes to athletics, Maine is mostly known for its men’s hockey team. The Black Bears won national titles in 1993 and 1999, with the former considered the greatest college hockey team of all time after racking up a 41-1-2 record en route to the title.

Games at Alfond Arena are fun, loud, and usually draw the biggest regular season crowds for Maine sporting events.

Alfond Arena

The Game

Cross Insurance Center

When it comes to basketball in Maine, Bangor is home. The Bangor Auditorium stood for 57 years and hosted packed houses pushing 6,000 people for the high school state finals.

Closed in 2013, the new Cross Insurance Center opened to replace it. Not to be confused with the Cross Insurance Arena two hours south in Portland, the CIC opened as the new home for basketball in Maine.

The high school finals take place there and both men’s and women’s teams from the University left their on-campus home, the cozy Memorial Gym, and set up shop in Bangor.

However, when it comes to University of Maine basketball, the real success has come on the women’s side. With nine NCAA tournament appearances, including bids in 2018 and 2019 thanks to a pair of America East titles, the women’s team has quietly built itself into one of the most consistent mid-major programs in the Northeast.

Throughout the arena, there are wall hangings and memorabilia from basketball greatness long past.

A small portion of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame

And the arena itself is a real gem. With a seating capacity of 5,500, the CIC has all the amenities of other midsize modern arenas. Spacious concourses, a variety of food options, and good sightlines make this a real hidden gem in New England.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a casino across the street?

The Seating Bowl
The concourse

The game itself was a fun one. Despite it being an exhibition, both teams came to play. The Black Bears opened up a seven-point lead at intermission and held it through the second half to claim a 70-63 win.

Time of game – 1:42
Price for a bottle of water: $3
Attendance – 320
Top Performer – Andrew Fleming (Maine): 22 pts, 9 reb, 5 ast, 4 blk, 2 stl

Thanks Bangor it was fun. Looking forward to coming back one more time.

Up Next: Blue Devil Mania

THP #1: North

November 2, 2019 – Fort Kent, Maine
Maine-Fort Kent v Husson men’s basketball

My feet are in the Saint John River and I’m staring at New Brunswick. This is where The Hoops Project begins.

Fort Kent, Maine. You’ve never been there. Until right now, I’d bet money that you didn’t know it even existed. More north than Quebec City, the cherry on top of the Eastern Seaboard, Fort Kent feels like the edge.

To get there, you drive up Route 95, peel off onto Maine Route 11 and go north until there’s no more America left.

And it is beautiful country. Even with the leaves off the trees, the natural wonder knew no bounds throughout Aroostook County.

From Bangor it was a 3:10 drive to downtown Fort Kent. The drive is one for thinking. You drive through tiny hamlets that would be forgotten if not for the census and pass by family burial plots with headstones that date back centuries.

Quick aside: Aroostook County is massive. It’s larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. Maine is bigger than South Carolina in terms of area. That just feels wrong, but it’s correct. 

There are signs reminding you of your fragility the deeper you get into the woods. The signs remind you that the roads may be made for man, but we’re no match for a pissed off moose.

But it is gorgeous and serene. Please take a ride with me for the final 10 miles to campus.

Things to See

Fort Kent is small. With a population just a shade higher than 4,000, there’s only a single stoplight in downtown, at a T-intersection by the Citgo.

Located in the heart of French Acadia, the Acadian flag flies at the same height as the American and Canadian flags at the border crossing. The Acadian flag is identical to the French flag with the addition of a five-pointed gold star in the upper left corner.

There were several signs in storefronts downtown signifying that both English and French were spoken at the shop. A heavily Catholic town, the St. Louis Church shoots into the sky with its wrought-iron steeple piercing the clouds.

Fort Kent also has a neat historic site with the Blockhouse. Did you know that Canada (then a British protectorate) and the US almost went to war in the 1830s? The Aroostook War nearly turned bloody as the United States and the United Kingdom bickered about the Maine/New Brunswick border.

The Blockhouse is a two-story-high wooden fortification built as tensions grew between the two nations. In the end, thousands of troops and militiamen were mobilized but no shots were fired. The Webster-Ashburton Treaty ended hostilities in 1842.

Downtown Fort Kent
St. Louis Church
Fort Kent Blockhouse
Looking across the Saint John River to Clair, New Brunswick

Things to Eat

Fort Kent may feel like the edge of the universe but the Subway and McDonald’s remind you that America it still is.

However, there are far better places in town to eat including Walker’s Pub and The Swamp Buck. At the latter I got a Caesar salad that ranked as one of my personal favorites in New England. Never thought to add red onions to a Caesar but they work wonders.

Aside from the delicious Caesar, the Swamp Buck is a down-home burger, steak, and sandwich spot that will satisfy.

And when in Acadia one must buy a box of ploye mix. A local delicacy, ployes are a tweener between a crepe and a pancake made from buckwheat flour.

The University

Maine-Fort Kent is not an NCAA institution. It is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association which is a national governing body for college sports at small colleges and community colleges. It actually allows schools to be dual members of the NAIA and NCAA Division III along with the USCAA.

Another quirk of Maine-Fort Kent is its schedule. The men’s team is slated to play 30 games this season. Only six will be at home.

With a roster that features three players each from Oregon and California, the Bengals have grown into one of the better programs in the USCAA despite the remote location. Oh, and they got a starter named Zeke.

Their home gym, simply called The Sports Center, is just that: a gym. With a capacity of around 1,400, it does the job.

The Game

It was an excellent game. Fort Kent’s opponent, Husson College, is a D3 school in Bangor, but it was all Bengals early. Fort Kent led by 14 at half and led by as many as 17 in the second half before the Eagles chipped away and had a chance to tie.

In the end, Fort Kent held for a 70-65 win, and if there was a box score online I’d have dropped some stats in right here.

Time of game: 90 minutes.
Attendance: ~150

Thanks for being stop one Fort Kent. Consider me a Bengals fan for life.

Up next: International Intercollegiate Shebangaroo