The 1993 Bangor High School boys basketball team was motivated by defeat — specifically, a five-overtime loss to South Portland in one of Maine’s most memorable games, the 1992 Class A state final.
When coach Roger Reed’s Rams got the chance to face the Red Riots in the title game a year later, they scored a 62-37 victory. Bangor captured the program’s first state title since 1959 and completed a season that 28 years later has earned them recognition as Maine’s Best Boys Basketball Team of All Time in an online polling of Bangor Daily News readers.
“We had a grit and a grind that we were not going to lose another chance at it, so I think 1992 really prepared us for 1993 and with winning that one, it all became real,” said John Tennett, a senior guard on the team who is the principal of Abraham Lincoln School in his hometown.
The 1993 Bangor team won the final round of the NCAA-style bracket challenge with 61.1 percent of the vote to top 1963 New England champion Stearns of Millinocket, which received 38.9 percent.
“I’m happy people recognize what a good team it was,” said Roger Reed, who coached the ’93 Rams to the first of eight state championships the program won under his guidance over 27 years. “I think that team could compete against any and all of the teams that I had, and I had a lot of good teams at Bangor.”
The 1993 Bangor and 1963 Stearns teams advanced through five rounds to the championship match.
Bangor defeated 2014 Portland, 1957 Old Town, 1979 South Portland, 1963 Morse of Bath and the 1987 Morse team in the semifinals. Stearns topped 2004 Calvary Chapel Christian of Orrington, 1990 Mountain Valley of Rumford, 1993 Winthrop, 1995 Bangor and 1985 Waterville.
“That was a very strong Stearns team,” Reed said. “I saw them play a lot. I followed their careers all the way through.”
The ’93 Bangor team, featuring BDN All-Maine first-team guard Mark Reed, All-Maine third-team guard Tennett, forwards Ryan Bradford and Dean Heistand and center Chris Pickering, was coming off back-to-back seasons that ended with losses to the eventual state champion — Old Town in the 1991 Eastern A semifinals and South Portland in their epic 1992 state final.
But as heartbreaking as that 81-79 loss to South Portland in Portland may have been, it proved to the returning Rams that they were ready to end the team’s gold-ball drought.
“Being in that five-overtime game kind of opened us up to think, ‘We can do this,’” Tennett said. “We wanted to get back to that tournament and I don’t think we had a question that once we got into the tournament that we were going to win it.”
Bangor wasn’t the favorite in its region after finishing second in the Eastern Maine Class A Heal Points behind undefeated Old Town, which beat the Rams twice during the regular season.
But Bangor’s cast of multisport athletes turned up the defense at the Bangor Auditorium, outlasting Cony of Augusta 57-48 and Lawrence of Fairfield 53-51 (in overtime) before topping Old Town 63-53 to earn a return trip to the state final.
“It was tough sledding,” Tennett said, “but I remember after we beat Old Town and it came out that we were playing South Portland again that we were pretty excited to have another chance.”
The state final turned out to be the easiest of Bangor’s four postseason victories.
“One thing that was really special about our group was that we grew up together, we played the game together and coach Reed really challenged us mentally,” Tennett said. “We challenged each other physically in practice every day. Practices were tough, but we were hard-nosed and really got after it.”
The breakthrough victory also was a sign of things to come, not only for the basketball team but Bangor’s entire athletic program. The boys basketball team won six state titles in 11 years, baseball captured four straight crowns from 1994 through 1997 and football returned to prominence with regional titles in 1995 and 2000 before capturing the 2001 Class A state championship.
“Almost every guy played two or three sports, and I think that’s when you saw things really take off in Bangor in terms of championships for the program,” Tennett said. “I think what we’d be most proud of is the longevity of it, knowing that we didn’t want to let the guys before us down and we wanted to try to do the right things to show the guys coming up what that was like. I think that caught on in Bangor.
“That gold ball you’d see from 1959 was kind of surreal, but then you start adding ’93 and ’95 and ’96 and the others, and I think kids started to see winning it as not only realistic but in some ways an expectation that we want to be there and we want to compete.”