Longtime Edward Little of Auburn boys basketball coach Mike Adams watches his team during a Jan. 4 game against Lewiston. Adams, who is working his way back from open-heart surgery, has the Red Eddies atop the Class AA North standings. Credit: Ram Sport Photo

Mike Adams and the Edward Little High School boys basketball team are scheduled to make their longest trip of the season Monday as they bus to Bangor for the second meeting of the season between the last two Class AA state champions.

But the 110-mile excursion up the Maine Turnpike and Interstate 95 isn’t dreaded for its length, it’s anticipated for the looming competition.

“There’s no problem for our kids getting up for it because it’s Bangor and they know they’re going to be playing a good team that’s always prepared and it’s a fun atmosphere with a good crowd. They look forward to it,” said Adams, the Red Eddies’ 19th-year head coach.

Adams has been on an even longer journey in recent months.

The 47-year-old teacher and coach is just 4 1/2 months removed from open-heart surgery at Maine Medical Center in Portland, where doctors repaired a congenital defect that led to an aortic aneurysm — an abnormal bulge in the wall of the aorta commonly known as the “widowmaker.”

While the surgery was a success, Adams is continuing a recovery process that doctors told him typically lasts a year.

“In a game if I holler a lot I can feel it.” he said. “Last game was pretty intense and I definitely was pretty exhausted at the end of that game. We got in the locker room after the game and I’m jumping up and down with the boys a little bit and I said, ‘Ooh, I felt that one. That hurt a little bit.”

He’s trying to be smart and ease back into the routine.

Adams had a storied basketball career while growing up in Farmington. The 6-foot-5 forward was Maine’s 1990 Mr. Basketball and a Bangor Daily News first-team All-Maine selection from Mt. Blue High School. He went on to score more than 1,500 points at Thomas College in Waterville, where he was inducted into that school’s athletic hall of fame in 2007.

After his playing days ended, Adams’ primary athletic pursuit became strength training. Time spent in the weight room was another active chapter of his busy life as a husband, father of two, teacher and head coach of a basketball team that has become one of the state’s top programs.

The Red Eddies have won 281 games under Adams’ watchful eye, with three regional championships and in 2018 the school’s first state title in 72 years.

But Adams has for the last six years been closely monitored by doctors since being diagnosed with a heart condition that he knew inevitably would lead to surgery.

“They have certain parameters for your [aortic] valve and the openings and blood leakage back into your heart,” he said. “I’ve always been on the edge but because I was so young when it was diagnosed they said we’ll wait, and then they finally said we couldn’t wait any longer.”

Adams, a morning person since his newspaper delivery days as a youth, routinely arises at 4 a.m. He began feeling more and more fatigued during the last year.

“I could fall asleep anytime, anywhere, but I thought I was just getting old, that it was part of the [aging] process,” he said.

It was determined in May that Adams would need surgery. That led him to ask whether he could wait until the end of summer basketball.

“The doctor said you can wait until the end of summer basketball but you can’t wait any longer,” said Adams, who was able to enjoy one of the favorite parts of his coaching year, EL’s five-week summer basketball program.

Last year it included a trip with his players to the Marshall University team camp in West Virginia.

“My next question was, would I be OK by the end of November for the start of basketball and he said I’d be OK, that I’d be tired and still be recovering but I’d be able to coach,” Adams said.

The timing meant he would not begin the school year in the classroom.

Adams was in surgery on Aug. 29 for approximately five hours, but was back on his feet the same day as the recuperative process began, albeit somewhat painfully.

“For the first three weeks or a month I was sleeping in a recliner, I couldn’t lay down,” he said. “You can’t lay on your side, you definitely can’t lay on your belly. You’re pretty restricted with anything you can do, and a sneeze is going to put you on your knees, it’s brutal.”

Adams resumed teaching at Edward Little in mid-October, which provided him a month to continue gaining strength before the start of preseason basketball practices on Nov. 18.

“When I got back to school I was tired, it was definitely an adjustment,” he said. “I was still sore, and carrying a backpack into school every day, it was a long day. But it was good because it let me get back into the classroom before basketball started, and now I have a lot more energy and can do those things.”

While Adams largely is back to living his normal life, he’s a bit more careful when it comes to activities like his strength-training workouts.

“It’s in your mind, you’re always thinking about it,” he said. “You know that your aorta, which they replaced a good chunk of, is just held together with stitches so I don’t want something to burst.”

Adams is thankful to the staff at Maine Medical Center and particularly for the support of his family, including wife Aimee, daughter Lindsey and son Marshal, in his comeback.

His basketball team also is back to its winning ways. The top-ranked Red Eddies, who lost to Bangor in last winter’s Class AA North championship game, are 8-1 and riding an eight-game winning streak after Saturday’s 71-59 victory over No. 2 Deering of Portland.

EL also owns a 56-42 win over No. 3 Bangor in their first encounter Dec. 23 in Auburn. Bangor is 7-3 after a 37-35 loss at Windham on Saturday.

Adams plans to use his longest bus ride since surgery to catch up on another of his midlife passions.

“You just bring a pillow, you lay back and take a little nap,” he said. “That’s the best way I deal with it, to be honest with you.”

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...