PITTSFIELD, Maine — Jared Brandon had no frame of reference for what to expect when he learned that one of his teammates on this year’s Maine Central Institute postgraduate basketball team was, indeed, from Maine.
“I’d never really heard of anybody from Maine in basketball,” said Brandon, who starred at Canyon Springs High School in Las Vegas as a senior last winter. “I’m from the West Coast.”
But the 6-foot-5 swingman, who last week signed a National Letter of Intent to accept a scholarship offer from Division I Cal State-Fullerton next year, is quickly learning more about former Bangor High School standout Tristan Thomas, the lone Pine Tree State product on the MCI roster.
And he likes what he’s seen.
“He’s a great shooter, that’s first of all, and he plays so hard,” said Brandon. “I’ve never seen somebody run the floor as hard as him. He plays hard, and I think he has a lot of potential as a player. He’s going to be a good player.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound guard, came on strong late last winter to help Bangor win the Class A state championship.
Known mostly for his perimeter defense and 3-point shooting, Thomas came up big in the Rams’ biggest game, knocking down a contested jumper from the right wing and a 3-pointer from the left side to ignite a 25-10 run over the final 6:15 of play as Bangor rallied from a 39-33 deficit to defeat Cheverus of Portland 58-49.
And while those skills have revealed themselves throughout preseason practices and MCI’s first two games this winter, Thomas’ ascension to team co-captain has stemmed largely from another more intangible element of his game.
“He’s hard-working,” said James Farr, a 6-9 forward from Evanston, Ill., who last week signed with Xavier University. “He’s one of the first guys in the gym and one of the last to leave almost every practice. The way he works is unbelievable. And he’s always here to talk to me, he’s just a great leader overall.”
Thomas hopes that hard work will lead to a basketball scholarship opportunity of his own, and through his play at MCI he also has had contact with several programs, including Penn and Hofstra.
“Tristan can play Division I basketball,” said MCI coach Dave Campbell. “No. 1, he plays hard and he’s a coachable kid. He can knock down shots. And he gets a lot of respect from our guys for the way he works. He’s got a tremendous work ethic, and he has some intangibles a lot of kids don’t have.
“He’s just got to be consistent, very consistent.”
For his part, Thomas is adjusting to the pace of play within the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC) ranks, which provides a one-year stopover for many players ultimately bound for big-time Division I programs.
“This level of play is definitely something I’m not used to at all,” said Thomas. “Coming from Maine it was a lot more fundamental and a lot slower paced, but now being with coach Campbell for a couple months, I’ve come to appreciate everything I’ve learned from [AAU] coach [Carl] Parker and [Bangor High] coach [Roger] Reed as far as fundamentals and slowing down the game goes.”
And slowing down the game from the frenetic pace that prep school basketball appears to be from the sidelines is one of Thomas’ early season priorities.
“I learned a lot about slowing the game down before but it’s definitely a big thing here because coach Campbell has talked about how other teams are going to try to rush us,” said Thomas. “Last [week] against Notre Dame Prep they really rushed things, and we have to learn to slow it down and use the fundamentals and do the things like Bangor taught me.
“I think a lot of kids think Maine basketball is kind of a wasted time compared to out-of-state basketball, but after being here and seeing the development of other players who have come in, the fundamentals we learn here are definitely a key point that definitely help in a fast-paced game.”
MCI is off to a 1-1 start this year, losing at Notre Dame Prep of Fitchburg, Mass., 84-73 last Wednesday before edging The Winchendon (Mass.) School 61-60 in its home opener at Wright Gymnasium on Sunday.
The Pittsfield team is the defending NEPSAC Class AAA champion, and while the roster is completely different this year, one of Thomas’ primary goals this winter is to win a second straight title, both for his team and himself.
“To be honest, I want to win the championship here again like they did last year, that’s my team goal,” said Thomas. “To be honest again, I’d like to be an all-defensive player like I was last year at Bangor, and finally to get a scholarship somewhere. Whether it be Division I or Division II it doesn’t really matter, I just want to go somewhere where I can play.”