Presque Isle's Griffin Guerrette, left, has the ball poked away by Houlton's Keegan Gentle during Thursday night's game at Houlton. The Wildcats won 71-51. Credit: Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times

When Griffin Guerrette joined the Presque Isle High School boys varsity basketball team three years ago, he often had to back up just to get his shot off.

As a 5-foot-2 freshman, he routinely faced defenders nearly a foot taller.

These days he’s still playing point guard for the Wildcats, who were 10-2 and ranked second in Class B North through Tuesday’s games.

And at 6 feet tall, he’s also jumping center.

“Even when I was 5-2 I was pretty athletic, but when you’re 5-2 you can’t jump center,” said Guerrette, an 18-year-old senior from Mapleton. “I never thought I’d be jumping center. Never.”

Guerrette’s athleticism helped him earn All-Maine status as a senior striker for Presque Isle’s soccer team last fall. It also has enabled him to emerge as one of the state’s top scorers this winter for Presque Isle, which already owns a victory over defending Class B state champion Mount Desert Island of Bar Harbor and took undefeated and top-seeded Hermon to overtime in their first meeting of the season.

“I knew going in that we were going to need him to score at least 20 a game, but I didn’t necessarily expect he would be pushing 30,” Presque Isle coach Terry Cummings said of Guerrette, who averages 28.5 points along with 4.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.3 steals.

Guerrette averaged approximately 14 points per game last winter in helping Presque Isle advance to the Class B North quarterfinals, but he added to his offensive repertoire during the offseason in part through his play with the Maine Select AAU program.

“Playing against those teams that are a lot bigger and a lot stronger, you have to learn how to get to the rim and finish with contact and you’ve got to learn how to create your own shot,” he said.

That work has led to the gradual evolution of Guerrette’s game from one of long-range shooting out of necessity to the ability to score from all three levels — beyond the 3-point line, in the midrange and at the rim.

“The jump has been unbelievable from his junior year to his senior year,” Cummings said. “He had a good year last year, but this year his explosiveness has gotten a lot better, and he’s a tough matchup because he can pretty much get to the rim anytime he wants.

“Something else that’s really improved is his midrange game, his jump shot, and the other thing is you’ve got to guard him out near half-court because he’s got that kind of range.”

The growth in Guerrette’s game has prompted opposing teams to try just about every conceivable defense to stop him, and the triangle-and-two, diamond-and-one and box-and-one sets haven’t really contained the Wildcats’ captain. His season low is 20 points, during a 29-point victory at Old Town when he didn’t play the entire game.

The opponents’ defensive focus has created more scoring opportunities for fellow starters Jonah Hudson, Trace Cyr, Caleb Wheaton and Jason Dumais.

“In the beginning of the season, people weren’t expecting much from us,” Guerrette said. “They called us a sleeper team and that kind of served as motivation. Then when teams started playing junk defenses on me, it left other people wide open and they got going, and now we’re working on all cylinders.”

It wasn’t always that easy for Guerrette and the Wildcats, who went 4-14 and 3-15 during his first two years on the varsity.

But a growth spurt between Guerrette’s sophomore and junior seasons coincided with a step forward for the program, which last winter went 13-5 and advanced to the tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2013.

“If you look at my stats, I probably took three times as many threes as I did twos my first two years,” he said. “That’s just the way I was playing because I couldn’t get to the rim as much as I do now. Last year, I got to the rim a little more, and this year, I’m getting to the rim more than I did last year.”

Guerrette worked on his midrange game last spring and summer in an effort to expand his offensive weaponry but admits he never anticipated scoring to the degree he has so far this season — he needs just 54 more points to reach 1,000 for his career heading into games Friday night at Ellsworth and Saturday afternoon at MDI.

“Obviously, coming off a season when I scored 14 and now scoring 28, it’s a little eye-opening,” said Guerrette, the younger brother of former Presque Isle and Husson University women’s basketball standout Chandler Guerrette. “I was expecting if I was going to get to 1,000 it would be at tournament time. I wasn’t expecting it to be during the season.

“I’ve just been taking my shots and they’ve been going in.”

Guerrette hopes to continue his education and basketball career at either Husson or Thomas College in Waterville, but first he wants to build on the tournament experience he first enjoyed last February.

“My first two years here it wasn’t pretty,” he said. “We weren’t even close to getting a playoff spot, then last year getting to the tournament and playing at the Cross Insurance Center was like a dream come true.

“You can’t beat it, and that just makes me want to play as many games there as I can this year.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...