Two former Maine high school basketball stars, one starting his final season at the next level and the second just beginning his college career, have emerged as top ambassadors for the game as they learned it in the Pine Tree State.
Tyler McFarland of Rockport, the state’s 2011 Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Maine Player of the Year while a senior at Camden Hills Regional High School, already has become one of the top players in the history of Division II Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts.
And Nick Mayo of Belgrade, the 2015 Gatorade Maine Player of the Year as a senior at Messalonskee High School in Oakland, is making an immediate impact as a freshman forward at Division I Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Kentucky.
McFarland, a 6-5 senior forward, is coming off a 28-point effort in Bentley’s 92-77 victory over Franklin Pierce in a Northeast-10 Conference game Wednesday night.
That offensive output, which included a 12-of-19 shooting effort from the floor, helped the Falcons improve to 7-2 overall and 3-0 in the NE 10’s Northeast Division.
He also moved from ninth to seventh on Bentley’s career scoring list with 1,667 points.
McFarland already has been named the NE-10’s player of the week once this year — and for the fourth time in his career — thanks to a style of play that has expanded from the paint to well beyond the 3-point arc during his years at Bentley.
He leads the NE-10 and ranks eighth nationally among NCAA Division II scorers this season with his average of 25.2 points per game on shooting accuracy of 57.5 percent from the field, 43.8 percent from 3-point land and 88.2 percent from the free-throw line.
McFarland also averages 6.2 rebounds per contest for coach Jay Lawson’s club.
He began the season as the first player in school history to lead his team in scoring and rebounds for three consecutive seasons, and is a two-time second-team NEC-10 all-star.
More records and accolades most certainly are forthcoming.
Many Maine basketball fans at the time McFarland graduated from Camden Hills hoped he could have made an impact with the state’s lone Division I program, but few can argue with how his college basketball career has turned out.
McFarland also has been part of a procession of former Maine high school standouts who have matriculated to Bentley, and one of three Mainers in this year’s starting lineup along with Keegan Hyland of South Portland, a graduate student who averages 15.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest, and senior guard Alex Furness of Wells (15.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.1 assists per game).
Kyle Bouchard, the 2015 Mr. Maine Basketball from Houlton, has started six games for the Falcons so far this season and averaged 4.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game, while freshman forward, Zach Gilpin of Hampden, the 2014 Gatorade Maine Player of the Year, and sophomore forward Nick Burton of Falmouth also are on the Falcons’ roster.
As for Mayo, his hair is now somewhat longer and restrained by a headband, but beyond that little looks different about his approach to basketball since he left central Maine for the Bluegrass State.
The 2015 Messalonskee of Oakland graduate, who emerged as a major college recruit while leading a Maine-based team to an 11th-place finish at the AAU nationals after his junior year and followed that up with a dominant season of high school basketball, is off to a quick start during his first semester at Eastern Kentucky.
The 6-9, 220-pound forward, one of three players to start all of the Colonels’ first 10 games, already has been named Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the week twice during the team’s 7-3 start — becoming the first EKU player to receive that honor since 2007.
He’s currently averaging 11.9 points and 3.7 rebounds while averaging 24.4 minutes per game for coach Dan McHale’s club while shooting 60 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line — impressive stats by any measure for a first-year player on the Division I scene.
Mayo got some national exposure Wednesday night when Eastern Kentucky made the 25-mile road trip to Lexington to face one of the giants of college basketball, the University of Kentucky.
Mayo was essentially EKU’s lone low-post presence against a much taller Kentucky lineup full of former high school All-Americans, but he managed to hold his own in front of more than 20,000 UK fans at Rupp Arena.
It was an earlier exposure to Kentucky basketball at the 2014 AAU 11th-Grade National Championships in Louisville, Kentucky, where Mayo played for a team coached by current Bangor High School coach Carl Parker, that led to him to return to the region to play collegiately.
And in the biggest test to date at that level, Mayo scored nine points on 4-of-10 shooting from the field, which included his third 3-pointer of the season and a fast-break layup that pulled EKU within 52-46 with 17:47 left in the game. He also grabbed three rebounds in 25 minutes of playing time for first-year coach Dan McHale.
Fourth-ranked Kentucky, which was coming off its first loss of the season at UCLA a week earlier, went on to use a 15-2 run to finish off an 88-67 victory.
But Mayo certainly was not overwhelmed by the occasion, just one more sign that Wednesday night’s game likely won’t be his last representing himself, his family, his high school and his state in front of a national audience.