Matt Gaudet’s induction into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday is a no-brainer.
From his origins in the sport as a youngster at the Greater Rumford Community Center, Gaudet developed a propensity for leading teams to championships.
He teamed with backcourt mate Daryl Gurney to propel coach Mark Karter’s Mountain Valley High School squad to the 1990 Class B state title, and he graduated a year later as a first-team Bangor Daily News All-Maine selection.
Gaudet played a similarly prominent role at Colby College in Waterville, where as a sophomore guard he helped the Mules capture the 1993 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference crown, defeating Williams College on the Ephs’ home court in the championship game.
Colby went 85-16 during Gaudet’s four years on the Mayflower Hill campus as he led the Mules in scoring each season and still ranks as the 10th-leading scorer in school history with 1,481 points.
But his contributions transcended individual offense.
“The easiest thing to say is that we wanted the ball in his hands every time up the floor because he was going to make something good happen, and he certainly did that very well to the tune of 85 wins during the time he was at Colby,” said Gaudet’s coach with the Mules, Dick Whitmore.
“Matt’s one of the few that started all four years and was a leading player all four years.”
Coping with tragedy
Gaudet graduated from Colby in 1995 and a year later moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where today he works from his home as a loan officer for Wintrust Mortgage.
He lives that professional life amid a daily challenge much greater than any he encountered on the basketball court, as the now-46-year-old Gaudet has been a quadriplegic since suffering a broken neck in May 2001 as the result of a diving accident in the Caribbean.
“The athletics were a hard part to not be able to do anymore, but it’s a lot bigger than that,” he said. “It’s simply living.”
Gaudet was in Saint Thomas of the Virgin Islands when he joined a group there for the wedding he was attending for a cruise on a small fishing boat. As the boat approached a stop on the nearby island of Tortola, members of the group were invited to dive into the water.
“I got up on the roof on top of the boat and dove and hit the bottom and broke my neck on impact,” he said. “It knocked me out momentarily, and when I regained consciousness I was face down in the water and couldn’t move at all.
“But I could hear my friends talking and then realizing that I wasn’t moving, so that gave me a little piece of mind in that moment that I was going to be saved. Otherwise I would have drowned because I could not move my arms at all.”
Gaudet’s recuperation in the aftermath of the accident was at times painstakingly slow, especially for someone with his athletic and competitive background.
“I was six years beyond college and beyond really building what I had built as far as what I was able to do on the court or on the football field [at Mountain Valley],” he said. “I really had to dig back into that as to what really got me to the point where I was able to achieve success, and that was just that I worked hard and loved playing sports with friends.
“This was a little different, but I needed to get back to that mentality and realize that it’s not for fun anymore. It was about building as much independence and strength and having an attitude of winning, which was what I had in the day.”
Relishing his relationships
Eighteen years later Gaudet’s life has a normalcy about it, though not the normalcy he anticipated during his most athletic years.
“I’ve got a lot of great relationships, my family and a lot of friends I’ve had out here continue to be an outstanding support system for me,” he said. “Living is a daily thing that doesn’t stop, it’s 24/7 so I have hired help that comes in every day to help me out, but certainly family and friends have been here and continue to offer help, and that gives me a lot of peace of mind and makes living a lot easier.
“Building strong relationships from the get-go many years ago has really blessed me today in that people are always willing and happy to help out.”
Those continuing relationships include the basketball community he grew up with, a reality he experienced almost immediately upon returning to Minneapolis after his accident.
“When I finally got back to Minneapolis I was heavily drugged up at the time, and I’ll never forget that when they were wheeling me into the hospital I opened my eyes and there was coach Whitmore standing there,” Gaudet said. “Of course, I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t at the time, but that just shows you the type of man he is, and he and [wife] Mary Kay have been like family to all of us.”
Several of Gaudet’s teammates also established a golf tournament to raise funds to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van and address other expenses for what he described as his “transition back to life,” and the event drew support from legions of his high school and college basketball brethren.
“All of them really contributed, and this tournament went on for 15 years, which is quite amazing to have any fundraiser go for that long,” Gaudet said.
Just last spring, 25 of Gaudet’s friends visited him at the NCAA Final Four in Minneapolis.
“Matt was there with us the whole weekend, and he smiled from the beginning of the event to the end,” Whitmore said. “It was just terrific because everybody was so pleased to be with him.
“He’s just a profile in courage to the greatest extent. He’s sustained in a situation where not everybody would have been able to do what he’s done.”
It’s in the spirit of teamwork that Gaudet looks forward to his induction into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame during a banquet and ceremony at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“It’s just an incredible honor, certainly not expected. I’m humbled by it,” said Gaudet, a 2015 New England Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. “Of course, with my accident 18 years ago I’ve really lived two lives, and since my accident I’m so focused on the daily challenges I have that the accomplishments I had in the past are really forgotten so this certainly brings back a lot of great memories.
“I share this with all of my teammates and coaches. Basketball is a team sport, and I couldn’t have accomplished the things I did without the great teammates and coaches I was lucky to have through those years of playing in high school and college in Maine.”