College basketball: Great Bay CC providing second chance for local kids

12/24/2015 by Ryan O'Leary

PORTSMOUTH — As word of a brand new college basketball program in the Seacoast began to spread, guys like Stratham’s Lucas Gaynor saw it as a second chance.

Gaynor had some success with the Exeter High School JV team but never tasted varsity. He spent his senior year away from competitive basketball, figuring he had suited up for the last time.

Basketball at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth? Was that for real?

“I didn’t even know what I was doing in terms of what I wanted to do with a four-year school,” said Gaynor, looking back, “but when I saw basketball, that just made it that much easier.”

Excited, motivated — and homegrown. As Great Bay tries to build a program from the ground up, it’s Seacoast products like Gaynor who men’s coach Dave Sokolnicki is targeting.

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“We wanted to build with local guys,” he said. “We were also going to reach out to the entire region of talent as well, but we just don’t have the housing resources at this point. I think once we get there it will be a little bit different. But we’re going to try to build with the Seacoast, hopefully play a little bit faster with Seacoast kids in the future and I think it will be fun. It will be a fun product to watch, no doubt about it.”

Just ask the Exeter-area guys.

Gaynor went from a year off to averaging 7.8 points per game for the Herons, who have a roster of 11 players, eight of them hailing from Seacoast towns.

Kensington native and Exeter High School product Ben Swift is listed as a 6-foot-6 freshman, and sharpshooting guard Vinnie Khounxay, one of Newmarket High School’s top scorers last season, leads Great Bay with 34 made 3-pointers.

Gaynor and Khounxay are often deployed together in the backcourt in Great Bay’s fast-paced system, one built around scoring in bunches. They’ve actually been playing together since the sixth grade through the local Integrity Hoops program.

“Kids are texting me already from Exeter, not sure what they want to do,” Gaynor said. “They’re texting me like, ‘How’s the basketball team?’”

The Herons entered the holiday break at 3-11 in their inaugural season. They play their games in the still relatively new United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA; established in 2008), joining the Division II Yankee Small College Conference that includes NHTI in Concord and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.

The program could become an option for guys looking to play ball beyond high school, save some money and transfer some credits to a four-year school down the road. Great Bay also offers women’s basketball, golf and women’s volleyball, which fielded a roster this past fall that included three Exeter High School grads in Lucy Klemarczyk, Samantha Andrews and Kayla Sheets.

In two cases in particular this offseason, Great Bay became an option for guys who never had college basketball on their radar.

“I went to orientation and I saw basketball. I was a little interested and a little skeptical at first,” Khounxay said. “I wasn’t really looking forward to playing competitive basketball. But I talked to the coach and he really encouraged me heavily to play. I’m glad I did.”

“After not playing last year at Exeter … it just gave me another chance,” Gaynor said. “I texted coach 'Sok' and just said thank you for giving me the opportunity to play basketball again. I’m just so happy to be here playing competitively again.”

There’s plenty of minutes to go around in Sokolnicki’s system, which has seen Madbury’s Eric Leslie blossom into the team’s top scorer (19.5 points per game) along with Dover’s Karim Winn (18.8). Three players average 15 points or more and 10 see at least 3 minutes per game.

The Herons can score. They’ve been in the 80’s or better 11 times and have topped 100 points three times, including a season-high 119 points in a blowout win over Hampshire College (Mass.).

Guys like Gaynor and Khounxay fit the mold of what Great Bay wants to do, spacing the floor as scorers. The duo has also combined for 10 starts this season.

“They’re both good guys,” Sokolnicki said of the boys. “They played some at high school, but I think with guys like them and guys we’re recruiting this year — I think you can do well here if you’re not the ‘star’ of the team. I think their leadership has been great. Their energy has been awesome. And they’re going to help us win games, no doubt about it. So I’m looking forward to two years with them.”

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