WASHBURN, Maine — Mitch Worcester wasn’t even in high school and yet the legend of his long-range shooting prowess was in full evidence.
Back when he was an eighth-grader, some of the pep rallies involving Washburn high school and middle school students included a chance to win a $50 gift certificate by making a 3-point shot.
At one of those events, one of the varsity basketball players was selected but rather than shoot the 3-pointer himself he chose Worcester to shoot for him.
“He picked me and I came out and made it,” said Worcester. “I got picked to shoot a couple of other times, too, but I can’t remember if I made those ones.”
Those schoolmates turned out to be sages, because Worcester, now an 18-year-old senior at Washburn District High School, has become one of the most prolific scorers in state history.
The 6-foot-3-inch guard joined an elite grouping Tuesday night — the 2,000-point club when he scored 39 points in a 69-61 victory over Fort Fairfield. He now has 2,020 career points. It’s believed fewer than 15 Maine high school players have reached the 2,000-point milestone, led by Cindy Blodgett of Lawrence of Fairfield (2,596 points) and Raymond Alley of Vinalhaven (2,306).
Worcester began the day with 1,981 career points as a four-year starter for the Beavers, a mark that includes regular-season games, postseason contests and the team’s annual participation in the Central Aroostook of Mars Hill preseason tournament, whose inclusion in school records dates to a period when Washburn played just 16 regular-season games instead of the maximum 18 allowed by the Maine Principals’ Association.
“It’s definitely a huge accomplishment, but it’s not just me,” said Worcester of the pending milestone. “It’s my teammates, too, my friends and especially my family. They’re all an important part of this.”
Worcester’s offensive exploits have coincided with an uptick in Washburn’s boys basketball fortunes.
Back when he was coming out of the bleachers to shoot 3-pointers as an eighth-grader, the boys varsity squad went 6-12 during the 2008-09 season.
Since Worcester joined the high school ranks, the Beavers are 58-13 overall, 12-0 this season.
“You’ve got to respect his 3-point shooting, but Mitch also has the ability to penetrate to the basket with quickness,” said Washburn coach Randy Norsworthy. “The guy really is the whole package.”
Worcester entered high school at a slender 5-10, but a growth spurt to 6-1 before his sophomore season changed his game.
“It helped a lot,” he said. “I was able to rebound better, and I could get my shot off over the older kids.”
Worcester earned a spot in Eastern Maine high school basketball lore with a record-setting shooting performance during the 2011 regional tournament.
He tied the Eastern D boys record with 13 3-pointers during that tourney and set a single-game mark with eight of his team’s record-breaking 20 3-pointers during the Beavers’ 84-72 semifinal loss to Jonesport-Beals.
“I think my favorite was at the end of the third quarter. We took it out with five seconds left, and I got to halfcourt and shot and it banked in,” Worcester said.
Washburn began this season coming off back-to-back 17-3 campaigns that ended in postseason frustration with tournament losses to Jonesport-Beals in 2011 and to Deer Isle-Stonington in the quarterfinals last winter.
Worcester is one of just two seniors this winter on a Washburn roster that also includes five sophomores and five freshmen. Yet the team is back near the top of the rankings, its record unblemished entering Tuesday night’s play.
“I’m definitely motivated,” said Worcester, who is averaging 31.5 points and 12 rebounds per game this season. “Last year was probably our best chance to win a gold ball, but this year has been a surprise. The young guys have really come together. I think we have a good chance to win. I know we’re a lot better defensively this year.”
Norsworthy credits much of this team’s development to Worcester’s role as a mentor.
“It’s important to him to bring along the younger players,” said Norsworthy. “He’s always encouraging them, coaching them, and he might even critique them at times but he always does it in a great way.”
Worcester, a two-year team captain, sees that role as a natural part of his responsibilities.
“Compared to last year I definitely have a bigger leadership role,” said Worcester, the son of Larry and Kimberly Worcester. “High school is a lot different for the younger guys than middle school, so I try to help them with a lot of the little things like making the extra pass, because you can advance the ball a lot faster with the pass than the dribble.”
Norsworthy also said Worcester has made individual sacrifices for the good of the team, such as playing nearer to the basket on defense rather than at his more natural position on the perimeter.
“He’s really a 6-foot-3-inch one (point guard), but I’ve asked him to do things that really aren’t conducive to him playing at the next level. He plays a lot in the post and on the wing for us,” said Norsworthy. “He’s really a one, but he’s accepted a number of different roles for us, which is pretty cool.”
But those sacrifices haven’t diminished Worcester’s scoring exploits this winter.
Shortly after being reminded by former Van Buren star Matt Rossignol — himself a 2,000-point scorer during the 1980s — that the Van Buren gymnasium scoring record was 52 points, Worcester went out and scored 53 in a road game against the Crusaders.
“I came out shooting great that night,” Worcester said. “That’s probably the best shooting night I’ve had.”
He also smashed the Washburn gymnasium record with 50 against Fort Kent, but his immediate goals have little to do with setting more individual standards.
Worcester is mulling college options, which include trying to walk on at the University of Maine where he would join good friend Garet Beal, a Jonesport-Beals senior who has accepted a scholarship to play for the Black Bears next fall, or attending a Division III school where he might earn playing time more immediately.
He’s also gearing up for what he hopes is a successful postseason run for his current team.
“I’ve still got that goal of winning a state championship,” he said. “But I know there are bigger things than basketball, so I try to stay humble with what I’ve got and stay hungry for more.”