Family's the theme at Maine Basketball Hall of Fame induction

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BANGOR—Basketball royalty took center court at the inaugural Maine Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony Friday at the Cross Insurance Center and as the evening progressed, it became abundantly clear that Maine basketball is just one big family.

And a pretty accomplished one at that.

The night honored the accomplishments of the 1944 Waterville boys’ team, which in the darkest days of World War Two brought great pride to the state by winning the New England championship. There was talk of the brotherhood and sisterhood of other teams over the years and most of all, the evening was full of siblings honoring siblings, children praising parents and parents paying tribute to their kids as many inductees were introduced by family members.

That theme was perhaps best illustrated by a storied father-son duo, who have showcased the best that the sport and the state have to offer during a decades-long run which called home places like Augusta, South Portland, Australia and now, Philadelphia.

A tandem who, for one night at least, painted the Hall of Fame Brown.

Storied coach Bob Brown, who created a dynasty at South Portland, went on to coach in college, then wrapped up his career with a successful stint at Cheverus, got to be part of the initial class and making his induction even sweeter was being joined by his son, Brett, the one-time Red Riots and Boston University standout, who has taken the baton from his father and is now coaching in the National Basketball Association with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“People would always say, ‘This is Bob Brown’s son, Brett,’ but now, whenever we go anywhere, people say, ‘This is Brett Brown’s father, Bob.’ How times have changed,” Bob Brown said, during his speech to introduce Brett for induction. “It’s really overwhelming because Maine basketball has been so important to my life. For me to go in with my son, it’s unbelievable. Hollywood would reject this script. I feel so honored. You know how sometimes you just feel good, but you can’t explain it? That’s it. I just feel good.”

Brett Brown echoed his father’s sentiments.

“Anytime I come back to this state, I’m always reminded how beautiful and unique it is,” he said. “To come back here and attend this, makes it a double-barreled privilege. To see all these people here and to share it with my father, is a very special experience that I’m very proud of.”

Brett Brown led a South Portland juggernaut to an undefeated season and a state title in 1979, as the Red Riots crushed Presque Isle in the state game, 102-58. That title was one of four championships for Bob Brown, who won over 600 games in his career and also led the University of Southern Maine to the 1988-89 Division III Final Four.

“We had a good team,” Brett Brown said, about the 1979 season. “I look back at it and I remember all of us were friends playing in eighth, ninth and 10th grade. Our final exam was our senior year and we went undefeated and won the state championship.”

“Everybody loved to play with Brett because he made them better,” Bob Brown said. “He was a true point guard. Unselfish.”

Brett Brown played for legendary coach Rick Pitino at Boston University, then embarked on his own coaching journey, which took him to Australia, then to NBA power San Antonio before he finally took the head job in Philadelphia last year.

Maine Basketball Hall of Fame Vice Chair and Thursday’s master of ceremonies Tony Hamlin recalled how Brett Brown’s ascendance to the stratosphere of NBA head coach affected Bob Brown.

“Bob called me last winter from the Fleet Center and said, ‘I’m sitting in the Fleet Center about to watch my son coach against the Boston Celtics,'” said Hamlin, fighting back tears. “He’s immensely proud.”

Bob Brown said that his pride in his son has multiple layers.

“When people stop (Bob’s wife and Brett’s mother) Bonny and I and say, ‘You must really be proud of your son,’ I say, ‘We are, but it’s a different pride,'” Bob Brown said. “We’re proud of how he got there. It wasn’t the easy path. He did what it took. What I’m most proud of is that youngsters from Maine can look out and see another youngster from Maine who went beyond the borders of the state and went out and succeeded. I’m so proud that Brett represents the state of Maine.”

Brett Brown’s first year in Philadelphia was challenging to say the least. The 76ers almost set a league record for futility, losing 26 games in a row in one stretch en route to a 19-63 record. Brown remains enthused and optimistic, however.

“We’ve got a bunch of 20-year-olds and I love it,” he said. “I’m thrilled the owners have shown patience. The city’s educated and has shown tolerance. I think people believe in our process. I’m so fired up for the challenge.”

Brett Brown has absorbed many things from his father, very little pertaining to Xs and Ox.

“He always carried himself with integrity and tried to help others,” Brett Brown said, of his father. “He always takes the responsibilty to do the right thing.”

Hamlin made similar points.

“What makes Bob a Hall of Famer to me is his character, integrity, honesty and fidelity to people and programs,” he said. “He’s literally touched the lives of thousands of players and coaches in the state. He has a unique and rare ability to make you feel better about yourself.”

Beyond the Browns, induction night was one of many memories, across age spectrums and genders.

Stealing the show was the ageless Bob Butler, who for decades with his late wife, Gertrude, made the vagaries of the Heal Points system easier to understand for the average fan. Butler, as he always seems to do, managed to bring the crowd to laughter on several occasions, even though he didn’t utter a single word, showing off his comic timing with facial expressions while being introduced by his daughter, Wanda.

Maine women have made their mark on the game for decades and Lisa Blais Manning (who won four straight Class A titles at Westbrook High School before helping Old Dominion win an NCAA national championship), Rachel Bouchard (the former Hall-Dale and U. Maine star) and Joanne Palombo-McCallie (a standout player at Brunswick before becoming even better known for coaching the University of Maine to stratospheric heights, leading Michigan State to the national championship game and now producing a Final Four-caliber squad at Duke every winter) all received just praise.

Bouchard, the one-time Yarmouth High athletic director, said that she was overwhelmed just to be part of such an accomplished group.

“I’m so thrilled to be in the first class with the caliber of people here,” she said. “I was thinking earlier of all the basketball knowledge and talent in this room. If we had a chalkboard, it would be quite a session. So many of these players, I knew the names, saw them play growing up. Joanne and Lisa, I can remember watching them and thinking, ‘Wow. That’s what I aspire to.'”

Palombo-McCallie, or Coach P as she is still affectionately known, now lives in North Carolina, but is forever part of the Maine basketball fabric (her niece, Allie Clement, was named Miss Maine Basketball in the very same room back in March) and rattled off some the many connections that the inductees share.

“I’m very, very grateful,” Palombo-McCallie said. “It’s phenomenal to represent my state and be part of the inaugural class. There are so many connections and stories. Lisa and I played in Taiwan together. We played against each other in college. Rachel was a fantastic player and was on my staff at the University of Maine. (Cony girls’ coaching legend) Paul Vachon’s daughter, Amy, was my point guard and helped us beat Stanford (in an epic NCAA Tournament upset). Bob Brown taught me how to shoot the ball.”

Other players in the inaugural class included Skip Chappelle (a standout at Old Town, the University of Maine and a draft choice of the Boston Celtics), Danny Coombs (who starred at Brewer and Seton Hall and went on to play five seasons of Major League Baseball), Don Crosby (a standout at Cony and Boston College), Matt Donahue (a high scorer at Westbrook and USM), Brad Moore (the career scoring leader at Hall-Dale, who later starred at Colby), Steve Pound (a record-setting scorer at Stearns and Acadia University in Nova Scotia, who played for a year professionally in England), Doug Roberts (a standout at Rumford, Acadia University and Clark University), Jack Scott (a standout at Ellsworth and Husson College), Joe Harrington (a Morse and University of Maryland standout, who was drafted by the Celtics), Matt Hancock (a Gold Ball winning player at Lake Region, who went on to be named Division III Player of the Year at Colby), Jon MacDonald (a star at Stearns and Maryland) and John “Swisher” Mitchell (a member of the 1944 Waterville squad, who later played at Providence).

In addition to Brown and Vachon, coaches Dick Whitmore (the Colby legend) and George Wentworth (who coached Stearns to a New England championship) were inducted.

Jim DiFrederico of Millinocket was the first official to be inducted.

Nine others were honored for being “Legends of the Game.” That group included former Waterville coach Wally Donovan; Durwood Heal, father of the Heal Points system; Charlie Wotten, the first Commissioner of Basketball; Tony Tammaro, a longtime official; Bill Mansfield, an accomplished coach at Winslow High in the 1930s; William Hanscom, who coached Presque Isle to the 1932 state title and three female pioneers: Stella McClean, a 2,000-point scorer at New Gloucester High and a coach at U. Maine-Farmington; Anita Belanger, who scored 2,209 points at Mattawamkeag High and still-going-strong-at-102-years-young Clara Swan, a longtime coach at Husson.

Hamlin said that while putting the evening together was challenging, he was very pleased with the inaugural ceremony.

“It’s very gratifying,” he said. “A very good, historic night. It was a great class,  an outstanding group. It was a labor of love for 14 months that culminated in tonight. Each of our inductees receives a piece of immortality. They were here and they made a difference.”

Going forward, look for large, accomplished classes to be the norm for several years as there are so many worthy recpients waiting their turn.

“I think it will be the same size until we catch up,” Hamlin said. “In a few years we’ll be up to 70, 75 people and we can look to change it up.”

That’s good news for Maine basketball fans, because the new Maine Basketball Hall of Fame (which has artifacts and memorabilia across an upper concourse at the CIC)  is something special, a point that the evening’s final speaker, Tom Wentworth, George’s son, so eloquently stated.

“This is a basketball junkie’s dream.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Former Brunswick High star, University of Maine coach and now coach of the Duke women’s team Joanne Palombo McCallie and storied Cony High girls’ coach Paul Vachon sign a basketball before the ceremony.

Ashley L. Conti / Bangor Daily News

There are no shortage of trophies, uniforms and other unique pieces of Maine basketball history on display at the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame.

More artifacts on display.

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Legendary coach Bob Brown (left) and his son, Brett, a one-time standout player who now coaches the Philadelphia 76ers, went into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame together Thursday, Aug. 21 in Bangor.

Michael Hoffer / The Forecaster

One of the many displays in the new Maine Basketball Hall of Fame concourse at the Cross insurance Center in Bangor.

The inaugural Maine Basketball Hall of Fame class.

Ashley L. Conti / Bangor Daily News

More photos below.

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.