JONESPORT — In the aftermath of a heartbreaking semifinal loss at the Eastern Maine Class D boys basketball tournament last February, coach Vincent MacLean Jr. and sophomore forward Tyler Turcotte were the last to depart the Jonesport-Beals locker room.
“Andrew Beal, one of our seniors, had just left, and there were just the two of us still changing in the (Bangor) Auditorium after we got beat by Schenck,” said MacLean, “and the last thing Tyler ever said to me as a basketball player to a coach was ‘Coach, I can’t wait until next year because things are going to be different.'”
Tragically, things indeed are vastly different these days for the Royals as they continue preseason workouts in advance of their Dec. 10 season opener against Narraguagus of Harrington.
The 17-year-old Turcotte died Sept. 2 in a one-car accident near the intersection of East Main Street and U.S. Route 1 in Harrington.
His death hit hard both those within the Jonesport-Beals basketball family and folks throughout the communities that surround Moosabec Reach, the channel that divides Jonesport from Beals Island.
“Tyler’s somebody all of us had grown up with,” said Matthew Alley, a junior guard for this year’s Jonesport-Beals squad. “In every sport we’ve played he’s been there, from Little League to every basketball season. It was just devastating to have someone like that taken away from you. It doesn’t seem fair.”
‘A tremendous role’
Turcotte was a powerful inside presence primarily as the sixth man for the 2009-10 Jonesport-Beals team that finished 16-4 after dropping a 52-50 decision to Schenck of East Millinocket in the regional semifinals. It was by far Schenck’s closest call during a postseason run that led the Wolverines to the Class D state championship.
Turcotte scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds against Schenck, statistics similar to those he compiled throughout that winter.
“He had a tremendous role on our team,” said Jonesport-Beals sophomore guard Garet Beal. “He started some games, and other games he came off the bench, but whenever he was in there it was always something special. There’d be like two minutes when he’d score 10 points and grab every rebound. He was strong when the ball came off the rim.”
And it wasn’t all about about scoring for the rugged 6-foot forward.
“I was having trouble getting guys to set a pick,” said MacLean. “Finally Tyler stepped up, and when he set a pick, boy he set a pick. I remember the first time he did it, and then him looking over at the bench, winking at me and saying, ‘Is that what you want, coach?'”
Royals face challenges
Regrouping in a competitive sense is just one challenge facing this year’s Jonesport-Beals team, which with the 6-4 Beal — one of the state’s top sophomore players regardless of class — and the Alleys are considered one of the preseason favorites to win Class D gold in 2011.
Coping with the loss of a friend continues for many of the Royals, a quite difference challenge eased perhaps by memories of the good times.
“I remember when we were riding to the (Downeast Athletic Conference) tournament, and Tyler and I were sitting together,” said 6-foot-6 junior center Justin Alley. “We both had our I-Pods on and we were both rapping Lil’ Wayne songs to each other the whole ride up and the whole ride back. We were seeing if we knew his songs and which ones were which.
“That’s one story that comes to mind. I have a whole ton.”
And some stories preceded their days as high school teammates — back to when on the court, at least, they were rivals as Turcotte was from Jonesport while Beal and the Alleys were from Beals Island.
“I remember back in grammar school when Jonesport would play Beals Grammar School, and I remember playing against him,” said Justin Alley. “Every game our defense would be set up to just try to stop him, because in grammar school Tyler was the biggest threat we played against. There was nobody as big as him, and he could score against anybody he wanted whenever he wanted.
“I was still friends with him back then, but when we hit the court we were still out for each other.”
Turcotte, who also enjoyed lobstering and playing video games online with his friends, found sancutary on the basketball court from an early age, often playing with his grandfather John Mills or his uncle Raymond Mills.
“His passion was being in the gym,” said MacLean. “That’s when he seemed the most content as a person, and he’d been in the gym since second grade with his grandfather and his uncle. He was fun to watch. He was tough to go around, he could rebound, he could outlet. He was always as strong as an ox, but he was deceivingly quick when he wanted to get from A to B.
“You knew what you were going to get from Tyler every night because he was consistent. What you’d see was what you’d got, and it was every night.”
And Turcotte’s family ties to the sport only grew as he grew.
“Back when we were grammar-school age, a team from Addison and Cherryfield had combined because they were trying to load up to beat us,” said Matthew Alley. “Tyler’s grandfather actually worked with the father of one of the kids on that team, so his grandfather kept saying how they were going to take it to us, he’d come to me and Tyler and really fill us up with that just to get us going.
“We ended up playing them, and at the end buzzer we beat them by like 35 points. I think that’s the best game I’d ever seen Tyler play in my life. He just went nuts, and his grandfather just kept feeding fuel to the fire. Tyler was pretty passionate about wanting to win that game, and we ended up getting the best of them, that’s for sure.”
Remembering a teammate
This year’s Jonesport-Beals team similarly is motivated by its quest for the school’s 10th state championship in boys basketball overall and first since 1993.
“(We want) another one of those,” said Matthew Alley, pointing to a trophy case in the gymnasium lobby already overflowing with the spoils of those previous state titles as well as three gold balls won by the school’s girls basketball team. “That’s what you play for. I think we’re a pretty dedicated bunch and we’re going to work hard for it.”
They’re also dedicating their season to their fallen teammate, and plan to wear black armbands in his memory.
“Losing that game (to Schenck) is not just what’s motivating me,” said Justin Alley, “but the death of my friend on Sept. 2nd is the most motivational thing for me for this season. I want to win this season for him.”
For Tyler Turcotte, once the sixth man, still the sixth man.
“You can’t replace someone like Tyler,” said MacLean. “So we’re just going to have to play as hard as we can. They’re first and foremost going to have to do it for themselves, but I can tell you they’ll work really, really hard, and when it’s all over and he’s talked about, it’s going to bring smiles to their faces because they’ll know they worked for themselves but they worked for him, too.
“Tyler’s still with them in their hearts. He’s in our hearts and in our minds and always will be. It won’t be just today or just this year, but it will be forever.”