They arrived together as freshmen at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, three young basketball players from whom much was expected.
Tyler McFarland, Graham Safford and Keegan Pieri all delivered on that promise during the ensuring four years, initially teaming in 2009 to help undefeated Camden Hills win the Class B state championship.
Safford then transferred to Class A Hampden Academy, where he played a leading role in helping the Broncos earn back-to-back trips to the Eastern Maine semifinals while developing into one of the state’s premier guards.
McFarland and Pieri continued to flourish at Camden Hills, with the 6-foot-6 classmates leading the Windjammers to two more Eastern B championships and a second undefeated state championship season this winter — with McFarland being selected the state’s Mr. Basketball for his contributions.
And just as they began their high school days together, McFarland, Safford and Pieri end this stage of their basketball careers together as teammates on the 56th annual Bangor Daily News All-Maine schoolboy basketball team.
McFarland, the leading vote-getter statewide, is joined on the All-Maine first team by Safford, senior forward Bo Leary of Edward Little of Auburn, senior guard Theo Bowe of Cape Elizabeth and junior guard Chris Braley of Nokomis of Newport.
With Pieri on the second team are senior forwards Andrew Shaw of Thornton Academy of Saco and Zach Blodgett of Bangor, junior forward Nolan Allen of Windham and senior center Joe McCloskey of Penobscot Valley of Howland.
Earning third-team honors are junior guard Louis DiStasio of Cheverus of Portland, sophomore forward Garet Beal of Jonesport-Beals and senior guards Ray Bessette of Brewer, Sam Johnston of Greely of Cumberland Center and Tristan Thomas of Bangor.
The All-Maine team honors the state’s top 15 players regardless of class, position or region, as selected by the BDN sports staff with input from coaches, officials and other basketball observers from throughout the state.
McFARLAND, in addition to being named Mr. Basketball, was selected the state’s Gatorade player of the year, Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B player of the year for the second straight season and a three-time MVP of the Eastern B boys tournament.
“Every time I see him play, all I can think of is [former Boston Celtics great John] Havlicek,” said Cheverus coach Bob Brown. “He’s always under control when he plays. He’s never in a hurry, but he always gets where he wants to go. He’s very skilled.”
The three-time All-Maine choice averaged 24.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 2.8 steals, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 55 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line for coach Jeff Hart’s Windjammers this winter.
LEARY helped Edward Little reach the Eastern Maine Class A final in each of his three varsity seasons, with regional titles in 2009 and 2010. He earned the Al Halliday award as the Eastern A tournament’s outstanding player-sportsman in 2010 and was the Bangor Daily News regional tournament MVP this year.
“He never got too high and never was too low,” said Hampden Academy coach Russ Bartlett. “You could count on him for 20 or more points a night, he was such a steady player for them.
“He also became a much better passer as he went along. He really made good decisions with the ball.”
A Mr. Basketball finalist and KVAC Class A South player of the year as a senior, and an All-Maine third-team choice as a junior, Leary is mulling college options that include Washington & Lee, Virginia, Connecticut and Wentworth Institute of Technology.
SAFFORD, a Mr. Basketball finalist, was named the KVAC Class A North player of the year this winter as well as an Eastern A tournament all-star. He also was a recipient of the Maine McDonald’s Spirit of the Game award.
“I feel like every night when we stepped on the floor with him, we had a good chance to win,” said Bartlett. “I felt he was worth 30 points to us with him scoring 18 to 20 points and dishing out five or six assists.”
Safford led the Broncos in scoring, rebounding, assists (5.5 per game) and steals (3.7). He also shot 59.5 percent from the field, 78.4 percent from the line and 36.8 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
“He had the ability to make big shots,” said Bartlett, “and he made everyone around him better. His will to win was contagious.”
Safford will play at Bates College in Lewiston next season.
BOWE gained statewide prominence with his 36-point outburst in the Class B state championship game against Camden Hills, but it was only a little more than his norm this winter. He led the Western Maine Conference with 25.2 points per game while helping Cape Elizabeth to its second Western B title in three years.
“When I teach fundamentals to the younger kids,” Cape Elizabeth Jim Ray said, “I always use Theo as an example.”
Bowe was a Mr. Basketball semifinalist, an All-WMC honoree and Western B tournament MVP this season as well as the recipient of the Bob Butler award symbolic of the WMC’s outstanding-player sportsman. He also was a finalist for the state free-throw shooting championship.
Bowe, whose older brother Alex was a third-team All-Maine choice in 2009, plans to attend Northeastern University in Boston this fall.
BRALEY helped Nokomis improve from 2-16 in 2010 to a 12-8 record and an Eastern B playoff berth this year.
“No. 1, Chris matured as a leader and took a very active role in that,” said Nokomis coach Carl Parker. “With the young team we had — no seniors — that was instrumental in our success.”
Braley routinely put up monster numbers whether shooting from well beyond the 3-point arc or working nearer the basket — he had 43 points and 17 rebounds in the Eastern B quarterfinals in February after a 32-point, 15-rebound effort in a preliminary-round victory.
The first-team All-KVAC Class B selection and Eastern B all-tourney choice already is drawing interest from colleges throughout the East, including schools from the Ivy League, America East, Colonial Athletic Association and the Patriot League.
One uncertainty is where Braley will play next season, as he is considering a transfer to Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
SHAW earned second-team All-Maine honors for the second consecutive season after leading Thornton Academy to a 15-3 record.
Shaw was the Southwestern Maine Activities Association’s second-leading scorer and led the SMAA in free-throw percentage at 86.4 percent.
“He’s a great shooter,” said Windham coach Kevin Millington. “He’s got great touch for a kid his size. He’s also real strong on the block, he can post up and has a consistent fadeaway jumper.”
Shaw was named to the All-SMAA first team for the second straight season and was a semifinalist for Mr. Basketball.
He plans to play at Division II Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., next winter.
ALLEN exploded onto the scene as the leader of an otherwise young Windham team, leading the SMAA in scoring by more than five points per game over his nearest rival.
The SMAA player of the year had a knack for drawing contact, as he attempted 199 free throws in 16 games, more than 100 attempts more than the next most prolific free-throw shooter in the conference did over a full 18-game schedule. Allen shot 74.4 percent from the line.
“Nolan is really aggressive offensively,” said Millington. “Last year he relied more on his perimeter shot. This year he still faced up, but he went hard to the basket and drew a lot of fouls.”
BLODGETT, a three-year starter, led Bangor in scoring and rebounding as the Rams won their first Class A state championship since 2007.
“He was a valuable asset for us and really caused problems for other people because his post moves were as good as we thought they were when he first became a starter as a sophomore,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed. “We really depended on him a lot in the last three years.”
Blodgett was a first-team All-KVAC Class A North honoree, an Eastern A all-tournament selection and a semifinalist for Mr. Basketball.
Blodgett is considering college options that include the University of Maine at Farmington and Maine Maritime Academy.
McCLOSKEY led Penobscot Valley to its best schoolboy basketball run in three decades this winter, success highlighted by a school-record 15 regular-season victories and the Howlers’ first tournament win at the Bangor Auditorium since 1980.
“He took us on a special ride,” said Penobscot Valley coach Jamie Russell. “I thank him for that all the time.”
McCloskey was a double-digit scorer and rebounder despite being constantly double- or triple-teamed.
“If he’s not the best rebounder I’ve ever had, he’s in the top two or three,” said Russell. “He just had a knack for where the ball was.”
A Mr. Basketball semifinalist, Eastern C tournament all-star and All-Penobscot Valley Conference honoree, McCloskey will play at the University of Maine at Farmington next season.
PIERI was both a perimeter complement to McFarland at Camden Hills and a capable inside presence on his own.
“Keegan gained five or six inches of height when he first came into high school, so he already had good guard skills, and then you add the size and he was a bad matchup for opponents,” said Parker.
Pieri was a first-team All-KVAC Class B selection, as well as a member of the Eastern B all-tournament team after scoring his team’s first 14 points — including four 3-point goals — during the Windjammers’ win over Ellsworth in the regional final.
He will attend Bowdoin College in Brunswick this fall.
DiSTASIO followed the lead of older brother Mick, who earned first-team All-Maine recognition after leading Cheverus to the 2009 Class A state title. Louis Distasio earned first-team All-SMAA accolades thanks to his 3-point shooting range and rangy play at the top of the Stags’ matchup zone defense and full-court press. He was named the Western A tournament MVP this winter while leading Cheverus to a 21-1 record.
BEAL has been a focal point of the resurgence of Jonesport-Beals basketball, leading the Royals to the Eastern D championship game this winter after a semifinal berth in 2010. Beal has developed the strength to work effectively against bigger defenders yet has retained the perimeter skills that enable him to be an unselfish force — his scoring average of more than 17 points per game came on just 11.3 field-goal attempts. The Downeast Athletic Conference all-star also averaged 4.7 assists and 2.0 steals per contest and shot 57.8 percent from the field.
BESSETTE earned All-Maine honors for the second straight year, albeit in a slightly different role from when he helped lead Brewer to the 2010 Eastern A final. Bessette gained All-KVAC Class A North first-team status for the second straight year, this time as the elder statesman on a less-experienced squad, compiling healthy individual statistics as well as getting his teammates involved, as evidenced by his 5.5 assists per game.
JOHNSTON sparked Greely to a 16-2 regular-season record, the No. 1 seed in Western B and a berth in the regional semifinals. The Rangers’ point guard, Johnston also was effective slashing to the basket to create his own shot as well as taking on top perimeter rivals defensively en route to earning All-Western Maine Conference honors.
THOMAS was a top perimeter defender on a Bangor team that allowed fewer than 40 points per game this winter. The All-KVAC Class A North honoree also scored two of Bangor’s most significant baskets in its win over Cheverus in the state final, a jumper from the right wing and a 3-pointer from the left side to erase nearly all of the Stags’ six-point fourth-quarter lead. Thomas plans to play postgraduate basketball at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield next season.