KENNEBUNK, Maine — Family.
That one simple word can mean a lot of things. It can be your typical relationship between father and son or a pair of brothers. But it can also be a group of teammates who bond over years of hard work and going through battles together on the court or the field.
For a pair of Thomas College basketball players — Kennebunk graduate Zach MacKinnon and Lewiston graduate Carlos Gonzalez — their bond started on the court and quickly became a brotherhood.
Soon that brotherhood will be featured on national television, with NBC’s Today show planning a segment on the duo.
The two were teammates on an AAU basketball team coached by Zach’s father, Mike MacKinnon, back in 2014. At the time, Carlos was a senior at Lewiston High School but found himself without a place to stay.
The MacKinnon family decided to help him out.
“It was really different because he started out just on my floor … he was on my floor for two weeks when I was still in school and he was getting ready to graduate (high school),” said Zach.
What may have started as just a place to crash for a few weeks quickly turned into a home for Gonzalez.
“As the summer went on he built his own room in the basement. From that point on, he was just part of the family … we all welcomed him with open arms,” Zach said.
Eventually, the MacKinnon’s decided they would like to make Carlos an official member of their family.
“I wasn’t really sure what to say, but it was obvious that I had a good opportunity placed in front of me … I was really blessed,” said Carlos on when he was invited to join their family.
After graduating from Lewiston, Gonzalez would start his collegiate career at Southern Maine Community College before transferring to Thomas College, which is located in Waterville. The 6-foot-7 center was a standout for the Terriers from the beginning as he scored 266 points and grabbed 257 rebounds in his sophomore season in Waterville.
MacKinnon put together a stellar career at Kennebunk, including being named the Journal Tribune’s Most Valuable Player during his senior season. When it came time for him to pick a school to continue his education and basketball career, the former Ram decided to join his brother at Thomas.
College can be an adjustment for some students, especially when they have to live with a stranger, but that wasn’t the case for these two roommates.
“It’s been very comfortable. It’s nice to (room with) somebody you already know instead of having to adjust,” said Carlos.
MacKinnon is having a blast playing with his brother — who draws a lot of attention from opposing defenses and opens things up for the sharp-shooter from Kennebunk.
“What he’s doing really well this season is kicking it out for either a mid-range (shot) or a three, so when a double team comes for him it really helps open up our offense because we get open shots … it’s also a pretty easy way to get some assists, you just have to throw it in to him,” said Zach, who praised Carlos’ ability on the defensive end as well. “Playing with him is awesome because he’s always in the paint protecting the rim, and he gets every rebound so it takes a lot of pressure off of everybody else defensively and for rebounding.”
Gonzalez has seen a lot of growth from Zach, who averaged 9.3 points for game as a freshman and is now leading the team with 12.4 points per contest this season.
“He’s definitely a lot more comfortable on the floor. He has the talent to play with the college guys, it’s just about being more comfortable and it came a lot easier now that he has a bigger role,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez is nearly averaging a double-double this season with 11.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, and he recently reached a milestone with his 1,000th career point.
“It’s something special. I’ve never really been a scorer, so to score a 1,000 means a lot,” said Gonzalez of joining the exclusive club.
One thing that has been a constant for both brothers has been the support from Mike, who is racking up miles to catch every second of their college careers.
“He doesn’t miss a game,” said Carlos. “It’s nice knowing that I have a familiar face out there when I go to road games because it can be tough playing those in front of some crazy crowds.”
The story of the Thomas College standouts received some attention in December when News Center Maine did a piece on Carlos and Zach. Now, the Kennebunk residents — along with Mike and Julie MacKinnon — are about to be under an even bigger spotlight as NBC’s Today Show is coming to Maine next week to film a piece.
“I thought it was pretty cool that it was going to be on the national stage, and more people would get a chance to hear the story,” said Carlos.
“I just thought it was pretty crazy — well, first I thought it was crazy that we were on the local news, and then when I heard that the national news picked it up, it was even crazier,” added Zach.
Both Carlos and Zach are expecting the Thomas College campus to be excited when the popular show heads to Waterville.
“I think people are going to be shocked at first because a lot of people won’t realize what’s going on … it’s a small school so they don’t really get that much attention, let alone national attention,” said Zach.
“It will be fun,” Carlos added. The Today Show will be on campus on Tuesday, and will attend the Terriers’ game against Maine Maritime that night.
“I think it’s going to be a little different atmosphere than it usually is. Hopefully it’s a packed gym,” said Zach.
Gonzalez, who will graduate in May with a business degree, is hoping that his story will be one that can inspire kids who may be in the same situation that he was just a few years ago.
“I just want people to take something positive out of it … just to hear a positive story and I hope that from there they know that hard work leads you to better places,” said Gonzalez.
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