The Jonesport-Beals entry in last weekend’s Great Harbor House Shootout was shorthanded, with just six players from the newly crowned Class D state championship team available to compete in the annual postseason basketball tournament staged in six gymnasiums in Ellsworth, Trenton and around Mount Desert Island.
So the Royals’ top player, junior swingman Garet Beal, turned to a long-distance friendship forged on a shared passion of their sport to come up with the needed help.
Enter Mitch Worcester, a star guard for Washburn High School, who was more than happy to help out — and ultimately help Beal and the rest of the returning Royals win the shootout’s high school boys division with a 79-52 championship-game victory over MDI.
“After [Washburn] got knocked out of the [Class D] tournament Mitch came down to visit,” said Beal. “We went to the gym and our team had just shot around and there was a signup sheet for the Harbor House. We knew we weren’t going to have a lot of bodies, so we threw his name on there just for the heck of it.
“We sent the roster in and then we realized we didn’t have a whole lot of people to go, so it was nice to have him step up and play for us.”
Worcester, like Beal a 1,000-point scorer through his first three seasons of high school play, was quick to accept the opportunity.
“I was down practicing down there one day, and the signup sheet was right there,” said Worcester, a junior guard who averaged nearly 26 points per game at Washburn this winter. “I thought they were just joking around, but I said I’d play because I knew our team doesn’t put a team in the Harbor House. It’s definitely been fun, it’s definitely been worth it.”
Long road trips between northern Aroostook County and Down East Maine are nothing new for Beal and Worcester, who have become best friends since first playing against each other in the 2010 Eastern Maine Class D quarterfinals.
“We’ve known each other since freshman year when we played them in the tournament,” said Worcester. “I got to know him and we’ve been friends ever since. We started playing AAU together and now this is our third year as teammates.”
Their friendship isn’t limited to face-to-face visits.
“We usually just text to each other all week long,” said Worcester. “We talk about basketball quite a lot. Basically our whole conversation is based around basketball, mostly about how our AAU team is going to be, what we need to do to get to nationals and how we’re going to do there. But it’s really about everything.”
Beal and Worcester try to visit each other during school vacations or when other opportunities arise, with one making the approximately 250-mile trip to the other’s hometown to talk basketball and work on their games.
“Any opportunity I get to go up north I take it,” said Beal, the MVP of this year’s Eastern Maine Class D tournament who has led the Royals to a 53-8 record over the last three seasons.
“Where I live there’s a lot of people who work out in the gym but they’re not in there every day like I am. It’s nice to be around someone who has the same dreams and aspirations as I do.”
Sometimes the travel can be extreme.
“The weekend before last we had a four-day weekend because of a teachers’ workshop, so I went up north and we played in a men’s league tournament on Friday night, had an AAU practice [in Pittsfield] on Saturday, then went back up north and worked out in the gym the next day,” Beal said.
“We drove four hours up, four hours back, four hours up again and four hours back home,” said Beal. “It was brutal.”
But despite the geographic obstacles, both basketball buddies say they have become better players because of their friendship.
“I’ve learned about shooting with confidence, and sometimes we do shooting drills and he’ll give me tips on what I can do to increase my accuracy on my shots,” said Beal, who also follows Worcester’s game-day ritual of playing video games — and shortly after picking up the practice this season erupted for a career-high 40 points during a victory over Calais.
“We’ve learned off each other’s games because we’ve played together and we go to games together. You just pick things up.”
“I learned from him basically to get stronger, and about ballhandling, shooting confidence, a lot of stuff he’s taught me,” added Worcester.
Worcester and Beal will be teammates again this weekend when their 17-and-under AAU team, coached by Nokomis of Newport coach Carl Parker, competes in the state AAU championship tournament at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.
Other Harbor House champs crowned
While Jonesport-Beals won the boys high school division at the 20th annual Great Harbor House Shootout, three other teams also won divisional titles.
Presque Isle, which featured many of the returning players from this year’s Class B state championship team, won the high school girls division crown, defeating Hampden 50-36 in the title game.
Mount Desert Island emerged as the best in the junior high girls division, edging Houlton 28-25 in the championship game.
And Hampden won the junior high boys title, surging past Ellsworth 83-52 in its final game.