Game balls for the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic to be played Friday and Saturday at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Ernie Clark

Tony Hamlin can appreciate what it means for a small-town Maine basketball player to compete in the state’s big arenas.

His high school playing career in Milo took him to the Bangor Auditorium, and after coaching South Portland to the 1983 Class A state championship, he returned home to lead Penquis Valley High School to a pair of gold balls — the second in the final tournament game to be played at the Auditorium in 2013.

That’s part of why the opportunity to help bring 32 teams from 18 schools in Classes C and D to the Cross Insurance Center on Friday and Saturday for the second annual Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic is special to the retired coach.

“When I was in school and and we went to the Bangor Auditorium and played, it’s something that’s etched in my memory,” said Hamlin, who is the executive director of the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame. “Even though this isn’t a tournament atmosphere like the Auditorium was, it still gives these kids a chance to get on a big floor and play on a court like the colleges and the pros play.”

Eight games spanning approximately 12 hours are scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. both days, with each contest part of the participants’ regular-season schedule with Heal point ramifications.

“The classes above [C and D] for whatever reason are less likely to want to give up a home gate,” said Hamlin, whose group worked with current coaches Randy Harris of Lee Academy and Jamie Russell of Central High School in Corinth to develop the tournament field.

“But we’ve had teams that have asked to come in that we haven’t been able to accommodate, too, and for those schools to give up a home gate to get their kids down there I think on balance is probably a good trade-off.”

With five of the top seven boys teams and six of the top eight girls programs in Class C North scheduled to participate, according to the pre-Christmas Heal points, some games will take on added meaning in anticipation of the regional tournaments to come at the same locale during February vacation week.

One top matchup is a Class C boys battle of the unbeatens at 11 a.m. Saturday, when 5-0 Stearns of Millinocket battles 5-0 Dexter. Stearns currently is seeded third in the division, while Dexter is fifth heading into the first of their two regular-season meetings this winter.

“You almost can’t generate a tournament atmosphere unless it’s the actual tournament itself, but this will be pretty close,” Dexter coach Peter Murray said. “It’s a valuable game for both teams, so I imagine there will be a good crowd for both sides and it will have that kind of feel to it.”

Other undefeated boys teams in the field are Class C North leader George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill, which at 6-0 will face 2-3 Calais in Friday’s 3:30 p.m. game; and the Stearns girls, top ranked in C North at 8-0 heading into Saturday’s 9:30 a.m. opener against 2-3 Bucksport.

One other unbeaten, the Class D North second-seeded Deer Isle-Stonington girls, will take a 6-0 record into Saturday’s finale against defending Class D South champion Greenville (4-1). That game is set for an 8 p.m. opening tipoff.

Among the benefits of playing in this event during the regular season is the opportunity to play on the 94-foot court at the site of the Class B, C and D North tournament — a surface 10 feet longer than the typical high school court — as well as gaining experience with a three-person officiating crew.

“From a coach’s perspective I want those kids on the floor even during warmups to get a feel for the background and shooting range and just being on that bigger floor, so if we press we know how that’s going to affect us,” Hamlin said.

While several undefeated teams may garner much of the pre-event attention, one major goal of the Classic transcends the competition of the day.

“The biggest thing is for us to be able to reach out to traditional rural basketball communities and get them into Bangor on that floor and let their kids come in and spend a day in the city as well,” Hamlin said.

“There are schools that maybe won’t make the tournament that will be here, too, and it gives those teams a chance to play on that floor that they might not otherwise get. That’s all good.”

Here is the full Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic schedule:

Second annual

Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Classic

(All regular-season contests)

At Cross Insurance Center, Bangor

Friday

Greenville boys versus Penquis, 9:30 a.m.

Penquis girls versus Piscataquis, 11 a.m.

Woodland boys versus Fort Fairfield, 12:30 p.m.

Woodland girls versus Fort Fairfield, 2 p.m.

Calais boys versus George Stevens Academy, 3:30 p.m.

Sumner girls versus Calais, 5 p.m.

Mattanawcook Academy girls versus George Stevens Academy, 6:30 p.m.

Mattanawcook Academy boys versus Sumner, 8 p.m.

Saturday

Stearns girls versus Bucksport, 9:30 a.m.

Dexter boys versus Stearns, 11 a.m.

Dexter girls versus Schenck, 12:30 p.m.

Central boys versus Piscataquis, 2 p.m.

Central girls versus Searsport, 3:30 p.m.

Lee Academy girls versus Penobscot Valley, 5 p.m.

Lee Academy boys versus Penobscot Valley, 6:30 p.m.

Deer Isle-Stonington girls versus Greenville, 8 p.m.

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...