Chris Markwood’s first game as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Maine is six months away, but some of his most important work is already underway.
The hiring of his first assistant coach, former Drexel University chief of staff Kevin O’Driscoll, was announced Tuesday, soon to be followed by a more personal step in his transition.
“It’s been busy but it’s been good,” said Markwood, the 2005 UMaine graduate who was named to lead the men’s basketball program at his alma mater on March 21. “And the great thing is my family and I are moving up there at the end of this week and we’ll be there full time.”
Markwood’s first few weeks at his new job have been focused on hiring a staff, getting to know UMaine’s returning players and recruiting to fill open roster spots.
He is tasked with rebuilding a UMaine men’s basketball team that had a 6-23 record this winter, with just three victories over Division I opponents. UMaine has finished either last or next-to-last among America East schools in team offense each of the last five years, never averaging more than 62.4 points per game in any of those seasons.
“It’s been hectic trying to put together a staff and recruit, all while especially during the first two or three weeks being around the returning players that are up in Orono and spending as much time with them as I could to let them get to know me and vice versa,” said Markwood, a former team captain at UMaine who was an assistant coach at Boston College last winter after earlier stops at UMaine, Vermont and Northeastern — a Division I coaching resume spanning 16 years.
O’Driscoll adds considerable Division I coaching experience of his own to the UMaine bench, with previous stops as an assistant beginning in 1994 at Villanova — his alma mater — as well as Manhattan, Iona, Marist, James Madison and Drexel.
“He is an extremely well-rounded coach and will have a positive impact on our program from day one,” Markwood said. “Most importantly, he is a person of high character who has a great work ethic and will be an excellent resource on and off the court for myself, as well as our student-athletes.”
O’Driscoll spent the last six seasons at Drexel, where he helped the Dragons win the 2021 Colonial Athletic Association championship and earn an NCAA Tournament berth.
“I’ve known Chris for a long time, and he’s been very instrumental in contributing to the success of many programs,” O’Driscoll said. “I look forward to partnering with Chris, as well as the Maine athletic department and the surrounding Orono area, as we strive toward building a great basketball program that the community and state of Maine can be proud of.”
A second assistant coach, believed to be former Wagner College assistant Pete Gash, is expected to join Markwood’s staff by the end of the month.
“We’re making a lot of progress there, then there’s a couple of other spots that are left to be filled and I’m pretty deep down the road with both of those as well,” Markwood said. “I just want to be sure to have the right guys in place, and I didn’t want to rush that aspect because getting a staff is one of the most important things to do.”
No official announcements have been made yet on new players joining the program in addition to Maine’s 2022 Mr. Basketball, John Shea of Edward Little High School in Auburn, though two verbal commitments to UMaine have been reported from the NCAA’s transfer portal.
Kellen Hynes, a native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is set to move closer to home after spending two years at Montana State, where last winter the 6-foot-3-inch guard played in 35 games as a second-year freshman for the Bobcats.
Also reportedly joining the program is Gedi Juozapaitis, a 6-4 swingman from London, England, who prepped at Woodstock Academy in Connecticut before playing for two years at Division II Flagler College and for the last two seasons at Georgia Southern.
“It’s an ongoing process but it’s the same as with the staff, trying to find young men that are going to be great fits for our program and the community and can continue to help move the program forward, and guys who will fit in well with the players we have returned,” Markwood said.
Markwood expects to have his full staff in place before his players gather on campus in July for summer school and off-season workouts, but both roster spots and coaching hires may be signed up before that.
“I can see the whole staff being put together by the end of May,” he said. “The recruiting aspect at this time of year goes pretty quick, but until it’s set in stone you don’t fully know. I’ve been around it too long to assume things are done until they actually are, but there’s only a couple open scholarships left and we’re in pretty deep with a couple young men for those, so I think that could go within the next two or three weeks along that same timeline.”
Markwood has been enthused by the reception he’s received since his hiring.
“A lot of people that I spend a lot of time with on the road or who know me know how much the school means to me and how much the state means to me,” said the South Portland High School graduate, who was named the state’s Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Maine Player of the Year in 2000 before beginning his college career at Notre Dame.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do — we haven’t played a game yet — and there’s a lot going on that we have to continue to work on that I’m excited about tackling, but the reception has been great and further drives home why we’re so excited to be up there.”