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Max Good admits he never could have coached himself.
“I was a horses—t player,” said Good, who on Sunday was inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame. “I thought I was good, but I was interested in all the wrong things, making a fancy pass, the things that didn’t contribute to us winning.
“I was an impressionable kid, but I made my mind up when I started coaching that there would not be one second of that foolishness.”
While Good’s demanding sideline demeanor would not have tolerated his own flamboyant playing personna of the 1960s, plenty of subsequent basketball standouts thrived under his old-school coaching style. During nearly five decades on the bench, he sent 10 players to the National Basketball Association and hundreds became NCAA Division I talents.
“People asked me how I got into [the hall of fame]? I got in on the backs of really good players,” the 78-year-old Good said. “Did we coach them? Yes. Did we demand a lot? Yes. Were we disciplined, made sure they were disciplined and paid attention to make sure they did the best they could in class and caused no problems on campus? Yes, we did all those things.”
Good coached some of the country’s top prep players from 1989 to 1999 at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield. There, his teams won more than 90 percent of their games (275-30) thanks to rosters that featured such future NBA standouts as Brad Miller and Cuttino Mobley.
“The common denominator of all good teams is good players. I’ll put it this way. I don’t care who the jockey is, a mule will never win the Kentucky Derby,” he said.
Perhaps the best of the bunch was Caron Butler, who arrived at MCI with major-college talent but a troubled past that included drugs, delinquency and life as a gang member in his native Racine, Wisconsin.
Good and MCI offered Butler a last chance to get his life straight and parlay his athletic talent into a future with hope, but Good quickly let Butler know he was just another guy on the team.
Butler said he arrived in Bangor for the first time late at night with four or five pieces of luggage.
“[Good] was like, ‘Get your stuff,’ so I grabbed all my stuff and carried it to the van,” Butler said. “Then we went to McDonald’s and he said, ‘Are you hungry?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said ‘I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to my dog.’”
Gentry, Good’s Airedale terrier, got the better end of the late-night meal, but Butler used his time at MCI as the springboard for a 14-year NBA career. It began as a first-round draft pick of the Miami Heat in 2002 and included two all-star selections and an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.
Good’s impact on the 6-foot-7 forward was so substantial that Butler eagerly flew from his home in southern California to Maine to introduce his former coach during Sunday’s Maine Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.
“Our relationship is unconditional, and it goes so far beyond the game of basketball,” said the 39-year-old Butler, now an entrepreneur and an NBA and college basketball television analyst.
“It’s all about life and it’s forever. What he’s done for me when I was here at MCI, and how he helped me rebuild my foundation and gave me a new beginning, a new fresh start, I’m forever grateful,” Butler said.
That relationship was built in great part on tough love, one of Good’s primary coaching traits.
“He was honest,” Butler said. “Some people don’t like honesty, especially in today’s society where we live in what’s trending and microwave success. He taught me a lot about putting in that sweat equity and holding yourself accountable, keeping the standard extremely high.
“He was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.”
A beautiful game
Good, who spent his early years in Monticello, knew he wanted to be a basketball coach by eighth grade after seeing Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics play an exhibition game in Houlton.
“I had never seen athletes like that, and it boggled my mind,” Good said. “I thought basketball players were the greatest athletes then and I know they are now. There’s nobody close to them athletically, I think, with their combination of size, strength, agility, ability and quickness. It’s such a beautiful game when it’s played the right way.”
Good graduated from Gardiner Area High School, then spent a prep year at MCI before attending Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. There, his coach was Lee Rose, who later guided North Carolina-Charlotte (1977) and Purdue (1980) to the Final Four.
Good began his coaching career in 1970 at Madison High School in Richmond, Kentucky, then jumped to the Division I ranks in the same city at Eastern Kentucky University.
His subsequent decade of postgraduate dominance at MCI included five New England Prep School Athletic Council titles and the chance to influence some of the country’s top emerging young basketball talent.
“I believe in giving them what they need, not what they want,” Good said. “That’s a serious problem we have in this country right now, especially with talented athletes. People fawn over them, and they’re [hurting] them in many cases when they do that.”
Good was lured back to the Division I world after his 10 years at MCI with stints at Nevada-Las Vegas and California’s Loyola Marymount University. In between (2001-08), he coached at Division II Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island. He led Bryant to five consecutive NCAA Division II tournament appearances, including a berth in the 2005 national championship game.
All the while, Good remained his hard-nosed coaching self.
“People would come up to the kids after games and say, how do you deal with that?” said Deshon Gaither, an assistant to Good at Bryant for three years who is now the head coach at Thomas College in Waterville. “But there was a method behind the madness, and those kids would run through a wall for him. They knew that 95 percent of it was hot air, but with the other 5 percent, they knew that deep down he cared for nothing but the best for all of them. They got that.”
Good ultimately spent more than two decades coaching Division I basketball but derived his greatest professional satisfaction elsewhere.
“The two best jobs I’ve ever had were Bryant and MCI, and neither one was Division I,” said Good, who is retired and lives in Windham. “In Division I there’s an awful lot of foolishness, and I made up my mind I would never in any way, shape or form bend or do anything that wasn’t kosher.
“How do you really get after players if you’re doing things for them that you really shouldn’t be doing?”
The Maine Basketball Hall of Fame honor is Good’s fourth, following the New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2004), MCI (2010) and Bryant (2011).
“This one is special,” he said. “I’ve lived in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but I’ve learned that people from Maine will tell you — most often — what you need to hear, not what you want to hear. They’re very honest, and I didn’t always find that to be the case in some of my travels out West.”