What was the most impactful moment from the Everett High School boys basketball team’s summer journey to Maine?
It may have been the Seagulls claiming the championship at the University of Maine at Fort Kent Summer Classic.
It may have been Everett almost beating reigning Maine Class AA state champion South Portland in a scrimmage, despite playing without its star point guard.
But it may also have been when the players received the chance to tour the campus of Bowdoin College, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country.
High school basketball teams taking trips during the summer to bond and improve their skills is not a new phenomenon. But tying the trip in with tours of several well-regarded colleges is less common.
The Seagulls recently returned from an eight-day trip out east, and in this instance the basketball was just part of the experience as Everett coach Bobby Thompson added tours of four college campuses to the itinerary.
“I really hadn’t seen many other high schools in Washington doing something like this,” said All-Wesco point guard Daniel Savovic, who’s heading into his senior season. “I know of high schools taking teams to AAU tournaments in the summer, and I know of AAU teams visiting colleges as a team. But high school teams? That’s a very rare thing, and I think it was really cool what Bobby was able to do. You don’t see high schools get this invested in their players.”
The timing for a summer team trip was right for the Seagulls. Everett finished 9-4 in Wesco 3A last season and returns its top two players in Savovic and fellow All-Wesco guard Isaiah White, so the bar has been set high for the upcoming season. Thompson, an Everett grad himself, played collegiately at the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK), so he had the connections needed to get the Seagulls entered into the 24-team tournament. Everett took 13 players, all of whom will be juniors or seniors in the upcoming school year, for a trip that spanned June 22-29.
The Seagulls knocked it out of the park on the court. Led by Savovic, White, Hayden Conaxis and Ty Bloomfield, Everett went 6-0 over the course of three days to win the tournament, beating Presque Isle 58-48 in the championship game. Savovic turned his ankle during the title game, so he wasn’t available for the three scrimmages Everett played afterwards, in which the Seagulls went 1-2.
“I think we played really well,” White said. “A lot of the things we worked on in practice translated into the games. And traveling together, it was a really good time for us to bond together and important for us to build as a team, getting to know people on a deeper level.”
But this trip wasn’t just about basketball, it was also about giving the players the type of exposure to higher education they may not otherwise have received. Everett toured three colleges in Maine: UMFK, Bowdoin and Bates. Then the team decided to tack Harvard on at the end, since the the Seagulls flew into and out of Boston.
“I think the biggest thing for me was just knowing the kids we serve and what their life experiences are,” Thompson said about why he added the college visits. “At Everett High we obviously have a real melting pot with kids from various socioeconomic groups. I knew the majority of our kids hadn’t been further away from home than Seattle. I just wanted to give them the richness of an experience, expanding their views to see what’s out there.
“We have a number of kids who are the type who would probably be getting recruited by smaller schools (Bowdoin and Bates are NCAA Division III schools, UMFK is a USCAA school), both because of the students that they are and because of where they are as basketball players,” Thompson added. “I wanted them to get a snapshot of schools like Bates and Bowdoin, find out what they’re all about and understand that they are reachable and achievable. For kids who may not go on to play basketball beyond high school, I wanted them to see the educational opportunities that exist with schools like that. I had a player a couple years ago (Taras Fesiienko) who went to Bates and played, and the school essentially met his financial need because of the student he was. I wanted to show that even if financial hurdles exist, if you’re an excellent student and set goals then everything is on the table. I think we have a number of guys in our program who fit that profile.”
White, who will be a junior in 2022-23, said he hadn’t really begun thinking about college yet. So the visits were part of getting the process started.
“The college visits were really cool,” White said. “I’d never really been on a college campus and really looked around. I saw how focused the students were. It was a whole different world, and I liked the energy of how the colleges were.
“I think Harvard was my highlight, definitely,” White added. “It has all the statues and stuff, which is cool to see, and it’s a super historic college. To say I visited Harvard is definitely a milestone in my life that I can remember forever.”
In addition, the team stayed at the dorms at UMFK during the tournament, giving them a taste of college living.
“For me, the most eye-opening was living in the dorms at UMFK,” Savovic said. “That was, ‘Oh my goodness, this is going to be me soon, this is the real world, living away from home in a new environment and living with someone else.’
“The highlight was probably Bates,” Savovic added. “I didn’t think it would be such a big campus, I didn’t think it would be so beautiful. I could see myself at Bates.”
Thompson said he started to see the wheels turning in the minds of many of the players during the trip.
“I think especially for the seniors to be, there’s a lot of anxiety about taking that next step and making those type of decisions,” Thompson said. “By getting their feet on the ground at these schools, it gave them something to start basing decisions off of. It was cool to hear the questions that came from going on the tours, talking to representatives of the schools, and seeing curiosity replacing that anxiety. There was some genuine excitement from some of the guys to come home and do more research for the next steps in their journey beyond high school.”
It’s already paid dividends for one Seagull basketball player, and he wasn’t even on the trip. Recent graduate Peter Wilson was set to attend the University of San Francisco, but the UMFK coaching staff, having watched the Seagulls play, asked Thompson if he had any 2022 grads who might be a fit for their program. Wilson still had an itch to play college basketball if an opportunity arose, and the past week Wilson committed to play at UMFK.
“The basketball experience was great,” Thompson said. “But we wanted to set them up beyond that and open their eyes to what exists. We weren’t saying they need to go to college in Maine, but we wanted them to see there are options out there outside a 30-mile radius of Everett. I think our players saw and appreciated that.”
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