Shooting down memory lane with Brett Brown, hoops at 'Rockland Rec'
When one gets my age — 54 wonderful years and, thankfully, still counting — anything can trigger a nostalgic look back at youth long gone. A song, a smell, a food or even a photo.
My recent trip down memory lane began in an 80-year old brick building where basketball has been king — and queen — for most of the dwelling's historic life span.
And all it took was a recent event centered around the Rockland Recreation Department and its longtime home in the Rockland Community Building on the corner of Limerock and Union streets in the "lobster capital of the world."
I spent several hours during a recent weekend taking photos at a boys peewee basketball tournament at "The Building" and marveled how much wonderful work has been done in recent years to refurbish and update a structure that originally was built in the 1930s.
However, despite the cosmetic changes (bleachers have replaced the old showers and storage on one sideline), the touch, feel, smell and vibe were as I remember decades ago when I played ping pong in "The Cave," roller skated on the court, bowled in the small alley that now houses the game room, attended dances and spent the early stages of my basketball career learning the ropes and the game in that gymnasium (I later refereed peewee games on Saturday mornings as a RDHS Tiger basketball player).
While snapping photos during the recent youth tourney, watching the talented, hard-working, fifth- and sixth-grade players, I recalled how much fun I had in that same space decades ago, especially playing games I will never forget, including a memorable championship-winning contest with my then teammates, including one now famous young man — Brett Brown.
Brown, who is the first-year head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers in the National Basketball Association, was a fourth-grader and I was a sixth-grader on that title team. It was 1971 and we were players on a Ted's Sav Mor/Food Market squad that won the championship, guided by wonderful coaches Larry Anderson and Paul Gerry.
Thanks to John Murphy, also mentioned below, I now have a copy of The Courier-Gazette newspaper article written about the 1971 peewee championship. Ted's won the game 34-33 on a late fourth-quarter hoop. In that game, I scored eight points, followed by Eddie Thorbjornson with seven; Brett Brown and Harry Collins, both five; Rodney Wooster, three; and John Murphy, Kurt Kaler and Ricky Randall, all two. For Ladd's, Cole had eight points; Warren, seven; Hazelwood, five; Thompson and Cannon, both three; and Lofman and Kaler, both two. Ted's finished with 10 free throws made and Ladd's seven. Ladd's made 13 two-point baskets and Ted's 12 baskets (no 3-point shots back in that day). Ladd's jumped to an 11-4 first-quarter lead and a 17-7 advantage after two quarters. But then Ted's made a second-half push, outscoring Ladd's 27-16 over the final 12 minutes (six-minute quarters), including trailing 26-22 after three stanzas.
It is something I will never forget for many reasons, one because my team defeated W.C. Ladd's Insurance, my brother, Scott Ingraham's squad, for the coveted crown.
Scott was three years younger than me and I remember him asking my mom who she would cheer for during the championship game and, being politically correct and a good mother, she said, 'Both of you, of course,' But, she told me years later, she hoped my team won because it was my final year in peewees and Scott had many more tries to win the crown (but do not tell my brother that).
Brett and his Ted Sav More teammates went on to win three straight peewee titles, starting in 1971.
I was a solid basketball player back in the day, but there was something special about Brown, whose dad, Bob, was the highly-respected Rockland District High School boys varsity hoop coach at the time. While I never got the chance to play for Brown's dad, I did attend several of his summer basketball camps and he was, in a word, tough. He expected 100 percent effort every second you were in the gym and on the court. Nothing less than maximum effort was expected and given by every young man he led into court battle.
But, I digress. This story is partially about his son, Brett, one of the most incredible young talents at that stage of his young life (it is safe to say Brett might have been our best all-around player, even as a fourth-grader).
Perhaps thanks to his father's occupation (and God-given talent), Brett was a gym rat and he went on to tremendous success on the court, as an All-State-caliber, state-champion player at South Portland High School, a most valuable player and team captain for Rick Pitino-coached Boston University and then championship success as an assistant coach for several NBA teams, including the San Antonio Spurs (he also at one time was a key cog in the emerging basketball culture in Australia).
This winter may be the first time Brett, who got his humble basketball beginnings as a backcourt mate of mine more than 40 years ago in the Rockland Community Center, has had to deal with negativity in a sport he certainly was born to play and coach.
Of course, most pro basketball fans know that Brett's 76ers have had historic futility this season, tying the league record with 26 straight losses at one point, which, ultimately, will allow the first-year coach to perhaps get one of the top collegiate players in the NBA Lottery.
Undoubtedly, Brett will come out of this lost season with a focus on a bright future for himself and the Philadelphia organization. In Brett's, and the Philadelphia 76er fans' case, patience is a virtue.
Brett and his dad recently were selected to be inducted into the inaugural class of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame (both also are members of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame). So Brett, who also played junior high ball in Rockland before departing with his family for South Portland to continue his education and hoops career in the early to mid-1970s.
As I strain my depleting, aging brain power, I remember Brett always with a smile on his face. He loved all there was about basketball and it reflected in his wonderful all-around game, even as a 9- or 10-year-old. He had a bubbly, infectious personality.
I remember Brett could dribble, shoot and pass with the best of them. He was as fundamentally sound as they came, well before he reached his teenage years. Surely, his dad had something to do with that.
After part of his youth was spent in Rockland playing ball at the "Rec Building," Brett has gone on to make quite a name and life for himself on and off the court.
And as I watched the most recent crop of Midcoast basketball players try their best during last weekend's tourney (ironically, John Murphy, who coached the Rockland squad also was on that Ted's championship team 40-plus years ago), I thought about how one or more of those current youngsters might grow up to be a sports writer like me or an unbelievable basketball player/coach like Brett Brown.
There is a lesson in all of this. It is that one does not always know where life's journey will lead, but one must not stop dreaming and striving to reach goals in athletics and life.
It has been proven, time after time, humble beginnings can, with a little luck and determination, lead to fun, rewarding professional careers.
A passion for sports, basketball specifically, certainly paved the road to those for Brett Brown and, ultimately, for me.
594-4401, extension 114
Ken Waltz has been member of the media 30 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon.
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