At Maine Central Institute, Players Develop Skills, SATs
PITTSFIELD, Maine (AP) _ His 158-18 record over 6 1/2 years would turn most other coaches green with envy, but Maine Central Institute’s Max Good measures success by a different standard.
Like being able to watch his former players take the court in 82 nationally televised Division I basketball games this season. Or having 15 players participate in last year’s NCAA tournament.
And it doesn’t hurt, night after night, to see ESPN’s Dick Vitale lavish praise on MCI’s postgraduate program, which offers arguably the best basketball played below the college level.
``Winning games is not our top priority,″ Good says. ``Winning here is producing people who are capable of coping academically, athletically and socially in college.″
Good’s postgraduate teams are made up in part of athletes who brave the cold winter and relative isolation of Pittsfield, a central Maine town of 4,200, to boost their Scholastic Aptitude Test scores above 700, the minimum required under NCAA rules.
Other players, including some with SATs at or above 1,100, are lured by the opportunity to develop their basketball skills, particularly the defensive ones that the coach emphasizes repeatedly.
``We try to promise colleges that when they get a kid from here, they’ll be able to do three things: they’ll be able to take severe criticism, they’ll be able to follow directions and they’ll be able to guard people,″ Good says.
This year’s crop of MCI players appears to be among the best ever. ``We’ve got two in the Big Ten, three in the Big East. The beat goes on, so to speak,″ Good says.
The most highly recruited team member, 1994 Parade High School All America Luther Clay, is headed to Purdue, where he will join former MCI players Brad Miller and Chad Austin. Miles Tarver has signed with Minnesota.
Closer to home, Andy Bedard is going to Boston College, Kellii Taylor to Pitt and Llewellyn Cole to Providence.
Purdue Coach Gene Keady is among those who appreciate Good’s demanding style.
``He really makes those kids mentally tougher, teaches them right from wrong, and makes sure that their academics get better while they’re there,″ Keady said. ``He’s just kind of a father and a coach and a disciplinarian.″
Good doesn’t beat the bushes on recruiting missions, preferring to rely on coaches’ references and player videotapes. As a guideline, he tells high school coaches his top eight players should be at a level comparable to Atlantic 10 prospects.
MCI offers need-based scholarships that cover as much as two-thirds of the nearly $15,000 annual cost for tuition and board, but Good has no regrets that prospective players are required to come up with the balance themselves. He said players turn to part-time jobs, bake sales and help from friends and family to achieve their goal.
Good, a former Division I coach at Eastern Kentucky, runs his program with boot camp rigor, combining demanding practices with mandatory study halls each night and a grueling road schedule that consumes weekends and school vacations.
His team, 28-5, averages more than 100 points a game. It competes in a New England prep school league and won the championship in three of Good’s six seasons. MCI also plays a handful of small Maine colleges _ it won all those games _ and traveled to tournaments and exhibitions in Kentucky, Virginia and Canada.
The academic effort goes beyond mere fulfillment of the SAT requirement and seeks to develop good study habits that enable a player to achieve the grades needed to remain in college.
``Blackboards and backboards,″ is how Good describes what MCI has to offer. He says the program is not for everyone and that players must be willing to put their social lives on hold.
And with no set roles for team members, MCI’s starting five have to earn their positions every game.
``A player who wants to come here and be a prima donna and be featured and coddled _ this isn’t the place for him and he’d be well-advised to go somewhere else,″ says Good, a 53-year-old Houlton native and MCI alumnus.
Players agree that success at MCI doesn’t come easy.
``It’s hard, but they’re trying to get the best out of you,″ says Clay, who knew nothing about Maine when he was referred to MCI by his coaches in Ohio. Unlike most other players who spend seven to nine months at the school, Clay arrived at MCI as a sophomore and is completing his third year there.
Bedard, one of the most talented players to ever come out of Maine, transferred to MCI in his senior year. The switch helped improve his game, especially by means of strength training and developing defensive skills.
Bedard’s fans from Mountain Valley High in his hometown of Rumford often travel to Pittsfield to watch him play, but Good’s postgraduates generally draw fewer fans than the MCI team that represents the local high school. Along with its 90 or so tuition-paying postgraduates, MCI has 380 students from Pittsfield and two neighboring towns.
Good’s interest is in drawing a special sort of fan _ Division I coaches _ and his success in that regard is beyond dispute. Those who have journeyed to the MCI gyms thus far this season include Keady, Rick Pitino of Kentucky, John Calipari of UMass, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, Clem Haskins of Minnesota, Bob Huggins of Cincinnati, Jim O’Brien of BC and Pat Kennedy of Florida State.
``We’ve had games where we’ve had 30 to 40 college coaches in a crowd of 100 people,″ Good said.
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