SOUTH PORTLAND — Around here, John Coyne goes by a lot of names.
To his friends and old basketball teammates, he’s simply “The Kid.” Most people call him Johnny, but he also gets his share of “J.C.” Even now he still answers to “Coyna,” which is essentially just South Portland for Coyne.
His given name is John Joseph Coyne IV and on Sunday he added one more designation to that list: Hall of Famer.
In a ceremony attended by close friends and family, old teammates, coaches and mentors, marked with poignant words and sincerity, Coyne took his rightful place alongside fellow hoop greats when he was formally inducted into the Southern Maine Community College Athletics Hall of Fame.
SMCC athletic director and men’s basketball coach Matt Richards hosted the event, with Scott Bessey (Jay, Maine), Coyne’s teammate during his two seasons for the Seawolves delivering the official induction speech and handing over the hardware.
From 1994-1996, Coyne and Bessey teamed to help the then-Techs post back-to-back 25 win seasons under the direction of legendary coach Ira “Doc” Stockwell. Each season, SMCC earned the league championship and participated in the National Small College Athletic Association national tournament.
At point guard, Coyne scored 754 points in 69 games, but more importantly, he finished as the school’s all-time leader in assists with 478 for his career. Those numbers, good for 11 points and seven assists each time out, only hint at what made Coyne truly great on the basketball floor.
It was more his leadership by example and gritty determination to win at all costs that defined his career. Fearless on the court, literally, Coyne hit the deck hard and often diving for loose balls or taking a charge. Yet, aided in large part by an unusually resilient head, he never stayed down long and never missed the chance to play basketball.
Coyne was hardly a glass-slapping rim-hugger, nor was he particularly fleet of foot, but he was basketball-fast, street-savvy and smart. He was an excellent foul shooter, a good skill for the primary ball handler, and made himself a step quicker by consistently hitting the 3.
Though capable of scoring, Coyne understood spacing and timing and loved to pass, using the dribble to create angles and find the open man. More often than not at SMCC that man was Bessey, the school’s all-time leading scorer and a 2008 inductee into the Seawolves’ Athletics Hall of Fame.
“It’s hard to describe Johnny Coyne as a player,” Bessey said. “Do you call him an athlete? No. I was thinking about that when I was writing this speech. I decided to just call him my point guard. That’s exactly what he was. And it’s a good thing, or else I wouldn’t have scored half as many points.”
Coyne’s induction capped a terrific career that began his sophomore year in high school when the South Portland Red Riots went unbeaten and won the 1992 Class A state championship over Bangor in a five-overtime adventure at the Civic Center.
As a junior, Coyne helped lead the 1993 team to the school’s second consecutive league championship and another regional title, before falling to Bangor at the Auditorium in a Rocky-like state final rematch that never quite played out.
His senior year, Coyne and fellow state champ holdover Ryan Hodge won their third-state league title, but faltered in the 1994 regional final. Hodge, like Bessey, enjoyed his time in the backcourt with Coyne, leading all of Class A in scoring with 24 points-per-game for the Red Riots.
Playing for coach Mike Giordano as freshmen, Coyne and Hodge finished unbeaten on the season, compiling an impressive four-year record of 79-7 overall.
Coyne married former Portland High and St. Joseph’s hoops star Sherry Sandora and has two young daughters, Dakoda (Coco) and Delany. Coach Giordano, the South Portland girls’ varsity team coach, who attended the induction ceremony, was no doubt doing some quick math, eager to have the girls suit up in the future.