FAIRFIELD, Maine — With nine seniors graduating from a team that came a split second from winning the Eastern Maine Class A championship last February, new Lawrence High School boys varsity basketball coach Jason Pellerin could be excused for lamenting the rebuilding challenge that awaits him.
But with a motivated group of younger players already immersing themselves in the Bulldogs’ summer program, Pellerin is enthusiastic about the program’s future.
“We’re relatively inexperienced, but I got the chance to coach these kids in the eighth grade and they’re coming into this situation with great excitement about getting their opportunity,” said Pellerin, whose nomination to the post was given unanimous approval by the local school board last Thursday evening.
“It’s hard to stop smiling when you have kids who are that enthusiastic.”
Pellerin replaces Mike McGee, who ended a 28-year-career as Lawrence’s head coach after last season, when he guided the Bulldogs to a 16-5 record and a trip to the Eastern A final where they lost to eventual state champion Hampden Academy 40-39 on a buzzer-beating 30-foot shot by freshman guard Nick Gilpin.
McGee guided Lawrence to two state championships, five Eastern Maine titles and finished his career with 350 coaching victories.
Like McGee, Pellerin is a Lawrence alumnus.
“To be able to coach where I grew up and where I grew up playing basketball allows me to really bring out the basketball passion I have,” said Pellerin. “I’m passionate about basketball, and I love Lawrence.”
Pellerin played basketball under McGee at Lawrence in 1989 and 1990 and captained the Bulldogs’ 1990 Class A state championship team.
Pellerin later coached the Lawrence girls varsity basketball team from 2002 to 2010, and in 2007, he led that squad to the program’s first tournament victory since 1994. He was named Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference coach of the year twice during that eight-year tenure.
Pellerin, who served as a volunteer assistant with the Lawrence boys varsity squad for the last three seasons, plans to focus on a style of play similar to that which has defined Bulldogs’ basketball for a generation or more.
“My defensive philosophy will be very similar to coach McGee, very aggressive and hard nosed, tough defense with some wrinkles thrown in that I’ve learned from some other coaches,” said Pellerin. “Offensively we’ll still want to get the best shot from every possession, but we’ll look to transition depending on who we’re playing.”
Pellerin was one of six applicants for the job and the unanimous choice of the selection committee charged with sending a nominee to the school board, according to Lawrence athletic administrator Bill MacManus.
“He’s played here, he’s coached here, he’s an excellent coaching practitioner, a student of the game, he’s very positive and he’s very enthusiastic about basketball,” said MacManus.
Pellerin already has a strong coaching connection with most of his players, not just as a varsity assistant but as director of the Fairfield Police Athletic League youth basketball program as well as the eighth-grade boys basketball coach in Fairfield for the last three years.
Pellerin also works as lead instructor at the Gilman Street Basketball Club in Waterville.
“One thing that won’t change here is the kids,” he said, “the fantastic kids we have here that love giving it everything they have.”