Saturday was to have been a homecoming of sorts for Cindy Blodgett.
The former University of Maine basketball All-American and Black Bears head coach is now an assistant coach at Rhode Island, which plays UMaine in a 1 p.m. game Saturday at the Portland Expo.
But Blodgett isn’t coming.
Unsolicited, the Clinton native said Thursday she will be on the road recruiting and will not accompany the Rams to Portland.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s part of our season and it’s what we do for travel,” Blodgett said as she discussed her work during the 20 months since she left UMaine.
“So much of what we do is recruiting and, oftentimes, it’s the assistant coaches that go,” she explained. “I have a tournament that I have to attend because it’s in the particular region that I’m in charge of.”
Blodgett, who was fired by UMaine athletics director Steve Abbott in March 2011 after four seasons directing the program, reacted strongly when asked if there was any other motivation for not making the trip.
“This is a game between two teams, it’s not between coaches or coaching staffs,” she said. “The circus part of it [the situation] need not apply, because there isn’t one.”
Even so, it won’t be the first time a former UMaine head coach didn’t come back to Maine for a game against the Black Bears.
After her departure, Ann McInerney missed a 2007 game in Orono as a volunteer assistant with Harvard, then did not accompany Holy Cross to Alfond Arena as an assistant coach in 2009.
The 36-year-old Blodgett, whose UMaine teams compiled a 24-94 record from 2007 to 2011, is in her second season working for Cathy Inglese at URI. Inglese is in her 26th season as a Division I head coach.
Blodgett said she knew Inglese from her days as the head coach at Boston College, as she had recruited the former Lawrence High School star, a four-time BDN All-Maine first-team selection.
The Rams have been in a rebuilding mode under Inglese, whose teams have gone 20-74 in three-plus seasons. URI is 3-6 heading into the meeting with UMaine.
“We were 1-28 last year and she [Inglese] has an administration that is very supportive of her and also very patient,” Blodgett said, “because they have not only the experience but the wherewithal to understand that rebuilding takes time and it takes years.”
With six freshmen on this year’s squad, Rhode Island’s three victories already appear to point to progress.
“We haven’t won a championship by any stretch, but there are signs that the tide is turning,” Blodgett said.
“So much of the work has been done in Cathy’s three years prior to this year,” she added.
Inglese could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Blodgett said her duties with the Rams center around overall player development, although she works extensively with the guards. She also coordinates the team’s preseason and summer skill development programs.
She is enjoying the responsibilities of being an assistant coach again after four years calling the shots at UMaine.
“The biggest difference that I notice is that I have the time to get on the court and have that direct interaction with the players daily,” Blodgett said.
She admitted being an assistant coach again is somewhat refreshing, given the extra burden of responsibility a head coach faces in trying to be an administrator and public presence in addition to a basketball tactician and motivator.
“I value both experiences because I think both allow you an opportunity to grow in different ways. I’ve enjoyed both, but they offer different challenges,” Blodgett said.
She is pleased to have the chance to work alongside a coach of Inglese’s experience and character.
“I get an opportunity to work for a hall of fame coach every day and I learn a lot,” she said. “I want to be stimulated by knowledge and I get that here. I’m surrounded by some very quality people and in that regard, it’s really wonderful.”
Blodgett who described her playing days at UMaine as having “lots of good memories, that’s for sure,” nevertheless did not want to delve into the past.
Even though there are nine newcomers on this year’s UMaine roster, team members Ashleigh Roberts, Corinne Wellington, Danielle Walczak, Courtney Anderson and Ali Nalivaika, along with manager/former players Sam Wheeler, Rachele Burns and Amber Smith, all played for or were recruited by Blodgett.
When asked whether she maintained contact with any of them, she guarded her privacy and that of the players.
“There’s certain things in my life that are going to be private and my interactions with coaches, players, that kind of thing, will remain just that,” Blodgett said.
Blodgett starred at UMaine from 1994-98, leading coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie’s teams to four straight NCAA tournament appearances. She set 20 school records.
The guard finished her career with 3,005 points, which was the third most in NCAA history at the time. She was drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Rockers and played four seasons in the WNBA before playing professionally in France and Korea.