Bessey gets most out of young Cougars

Sport: Basketball (boys)

Posted: March 23rd, 2008 by Tom Nolette

Bessey gets most out of young Cougars


Jim Bessey looked at his Mt. Blue High School boys basketball team last fall, and the veteran coach saw a lot of new faces.

The Cougars were coming off a 16-win season that ended in the Eastern Maine Class A semifinals. All five starters from that team had graduated, and Bessey had just three players on the roster who saw any significant varsity playing time last season.

Bessey made it clear early on that lack of experience wasn't an excuse for a lack of hard work.

"The first day back, he said this is Mt. Blue basketball, and we've had a run of successful seasons," junior Ben Russell said. "He really set the tone that we would work hard, even before summer basketball."

After losing the first two games of the season, Mt. Blue became one of the pleasant surprises in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference. The Cougars won 13 games and once again went deep in the postseason.

For guiding the Cougars back to the Eastern A semifinals, Jim Bessey is the Morning Sentinel Boys Basketball Coach of the Year. Troy Scott of Skowhegan and Mike McGee of Lawrence also were considered.

The turning point of the season came early, Bessey said, near the end of the second game, a 53-49 loss at Lawrence. Down 17 points with six minutes to play, Bessey called a timeout.

"I said at that point, our body language was bad, our effort wasn't there and the game wasn't over," Bessey said. "We went out and hit a 3, they missed a shot, we scored again and suddenly were down 11. With eight seconds left we were down two or three points."

After dropping the first two games of the season to Messalonskee and Lawrence, the Cougars won 11 of their next 12, losing only to eventual regional champion Bangor in the stretch. The Cougars beat Messalonskee, Brewer and Hampden all on plays in the final seconds. "I thought we'd be competitive," said Bessey, who won his 400th game in 2007 and just completed his 33rd year at Mt. Blue.

"This team got better as the season went on. We won a bunch of games and got confidence. This was a very bright team. Both Jamie (Sawyer) and Ben are straight-A students, and that leads to smart coaches."

In nearly three and a half decades, Bessey had never before had a team with no returning starters. Joe Gilbert and Justin Kobischen were the only seniors on the team, and Bessey found himself teaching more than in recent seasons.

"We did less offensively. We were probably less sophisticated than we've been before," Bessey said. "Defensively, we did more than we've done. We changed up a lot defensively. We had to play some zones."

Added Russell: "We went over much more on the fundamentals. Coach showed everybody their roles."

That those roles were embraced was another factor in Mt. Blue's success. "They did what was necessary to be a competitive team," Bessey said. "They understood their roles. They understood them and were happy with them. "It was a very rewarding season. It was a whole lot of fun for me."

Travis Lazarczyk -- 861-9242