BANGOR, Maine — He nearly brought the house down on St. Patrick’s Day 2001 with one of the most memorable shots in the history of the Bangor Auditorium.
Now, more than a decade later, Joe Campbell still cherishes the memory of his historic last-second shot that gave Bangor High School a one-point victory over heavily favored Deering of Portland in the Class A boys basketball state championship game played in the aging edifice at the corner of Main and Buck streets.
But these days he’s hard at work helping to bring down that 56-year-old house of hoops in a literal sense, or more specifically, erecting its replacement.
The 28-year-old Campbell now works for Maine-based Cianbro Corp., which is serving as the construction manager for the new Bangor arena and convention center that is scheduled to open by Labor Day 2013.
Campbell is one of two project engineers for the estimated $65 million project.
“It’s generally coordinating the construction process,” said Campbell of his job, which he does in tandem with fellow project engineer Jessica Belanger. “It’s something different every day. If any questions in the field arise, we’re responsible for tracking down the answers in a timely fashion so it’s not slowing down the process.”
Those responsibilities include coordinating the day-to-day scheduling of the project and the flow of information between the subcontractors and the designers as well as myriad other tasks.
“He has a very, very central role, an array of duties,” said Campbell’s supervisor, project manager Jon DiCentes.
DiCentes, like Campbell, has a basketball link to the building they’re helping to replace. DiCentes’ father, Ed DiCentes, was a key member of the Stearns High School boys basketball team that won the 1963 Eastern Maine Class LL championship at the current auditorium and went on to win that year’s New England championship.
“I used to go there all the time,” said DiCentes.
But while DiCentes’ basketball relationship to the old Bangor Auditorium is a generation removed, Campbell’s is direct and much more recent.
And that makes for just a tinge of sadness at the impending demise of the old building, though that sentimentality is offset by what Campbell sees as the potential of the new auditorium and convention center to contribute to the vitality of his hometown.
“I have a history with the Bangor Auditorium, so it’s a little bittersweet for me,” he said. “Knowing the old building will be torn down leaves me struggling a little bit for sentimental reasons because the Bangor Auditorium has been a symbol of Bangor.
“But most of all I’m excited to be part of creating a facility that will be part of lifelong memories for future athletes.”
That magic moment
Bangor had stayed within striking distance of Deering throughout the 2001 Class A boys basketball state final, no small challenge given that Deering’s roster included that year’s Mr. Basketball Jamaal Caterina, future Atlantic Coast Conference all-star Nik Caner-Medley and Walter Phillips, who like Caterina and Caner-Medley went on to play in the collegiate ranks.
Bangor was the defending champion, but it was Deering that arrived in the Queen City with the individual firepower.
Yet Bangor was right with Deering, reaching 55 points to Deering’s 56 on two free throws by the 6-foot-5 Campbell as Caner-Medley fouled out with 32 seconds remaining. Bangor regained possession when Zak Ray stole the ball, giving the Rams one last chance at victory.
Bangor opted not to call time out, and Ray eventually passed the ball to Campbell, Bangor’s go-to guy who had led the team in scoring and rebounding throughout the winter.
But with the clock ticking down, inside 10 seconds, Campbell made a spin move in the lane only to be stripped of the ball from the blind side by Deering’s Derek Raymond.
But just as quickly as Raymond headed in the other direction, Ray of Bangor reached in, poked the ball away, gained possession and threw up a desperation shot from the left sideline.
The shot was an air ball, well short of the rim.
But there was Campbell, who seconds earlier was prone on the auditorium floor while the ball — and his championship dreams — seemingly were headed in the opposite direction.
Only Campbell didn’t spend time feeling sorry for himself. He rolled back onto his feet just to the left of the basket so when Ray’s shot came his way, he was in perfect position to make one final play.
And that play is now etched in Bangor Auditorium lore, side-by-side with Mike Thurston’s buzzer-beating shot from beyond midcourt that gave Caribou a stunning 65-63 victory over Westbrook in the 1969 Class LL final for that community’s lone state championship in boys basketball.
Campbell’s shot traveled a much shorter distance — little more than a foot — as he grabbed the ball out of the air with his back to the basket and in one motion flipped it behind him to his left off the backboard and through the net just as the buzzer sounded.
Bangor 57, Deering 56 — and the rafters of the auditorium shook as the crowd of 4,660 erupted.
“The real hero was Zak Ray,” recalled Campbell recently, who finished the game with 23 points and 13 rebounds. “I lost the ball, but he got the ball back and I just happened to be standing where the ball came down.”
That Campbell was in the right place at the right time was all his own doing, however, with a little guidance from veteran Bangor coach Roger Reed.
“One of the things coach Reed stresses is that the game isn’t over until it’s over and to play until the final whistle,” said Campbell. “I just got up and tried to find a way to redeem myself. It just comes down to finishing every play, to play to the final horn. It was a programmed response in a way.
“I knew the clock was winding down, but as far as knowing exactly how much time was left I didn’t know.”
The victory capped off a remarkable high school career for Campbell, a three-year starter whose teams went 57-8 overall — including 21-1 as a senior — with two state titles and a third trip to the Eastern Maine championship game. He also was a two-time Bangor Daily News All-Maine honoree, the 2001 Big East Conference player of the year and, as a senior, emerged as a finalist for the state’s annual Mr. Basketball award.
But even as a high school senior it wasn’t about individual achievement for Campbell, who devoted much of his postgame interviews that evening praising Bangor’s vanquished opponent and today recalls such teammates as Ray, Joe Vanidestine and Jimmy Shea and the bonds developed within that group of players and coaches as the primary reason for that special night in Maine high school basketball — and Bangor Auditorium — history.
“For me it’s always been about the people on the team, and the chemistry we had,” he said. “That’s what I remember most, the teamwork and the people there. Obviously, the fans were a big part, but with the team we had we were all friends playing together, there was no adversity the entire year.
“It came down to overcoming the odds, and to hard work and coming together and doing what we had to do to win. We had the right team and the right chemistry, and with that you can accomplish anything.”
Helping his hometown
Campbell went on to play at the University of Maine, where as a senior he was a third-team All-America East selection after leading the Black Bears in rebounding.
He graduated from UMaine in 2005 with a sociology degree and returned to the Orono campus and got a degree in construction management technology in 2008.
He soon relocated to the Boston area, where he remained until learning of an opening in Cianbro’s construction management program — which, in turn, ultimately led him back home.
“It was a good opportunity to get back to the area, which is something I had been looking to do for a while,” said Campbell.
That he has come home to help replace the building where he earned enduring fame is a bit coincidental.
“It’s definitely a unique opportunity for Joe,” said DiCentes. “It’s great for him to have the chance to be part of the history of the old building and also be part of building the new arena.”
It’s an opportunity Campbell relishes, in part because he’s fully aware that new memories are waiting to be made in the new facility that will have 5,800 fixed arena seats and a maximum seating capacity of approximately 8,000.
“I’m excited about this, because this is really going to be a world-class venue,” said Campbell.
“The auditorium just had such an energy that’s hard to define, kind of like Fenway Park or the old Boston Garden. It had lots of life, but that’s because of the people who went there and made it what it was.
“So much of what’s made the auditorium what it has been are the people and the memories they have from that building,” Campbell said. “And while it’s hard to separate the two, those memories are going to remain and hopefully people will be able to create new memories when the new building opens.
“It’s going to be up to the people to make those memories.”
To view footage of Campbell’s 2001 game-winning shot, visit http://bdn.to/theshot.