The Andover Townsman
---- — Amid all the excitement of the winter state tournaments and getting ready for the spring season at Andover High, athletic director Don Doucette snuck over to nearby Lowell to celebrate an anniversary.
It’s been 25 years since the 1987-88 UMass Lowell men’s basketball team won the Div. 2 national title.
And Doucette, who was a lot louder back then, was the head coach.
Considering that no other Div. 2 school in Massachusetts has won a men’s basketball title before or since makes the anniversary a little more special.
“This team is so close that they get everyone together every five years since 1988, but the night of the 25th was very special,” Doucette said. “Being around these guys, I can’t believe the feeling I get. It’s a very special group of guys who gave me the sense that they wanted to lace them up and go out that night and play. A very confident and cocky group, but they have earned that right.”
While UMass Lowell was always known as a hockey school with its blue-collar theme, a perfect representation of the city of Lowell, Doucette’s basketball minions fit the bill, too.
“Our team personified the blue-collar, hard-working city of Lowell as much as any ULowell hockey team ever has,” Doucette said. “We had more stitches and broken noses from hard work than I have ever seen in one season. They truly represented the community of Lowell to a T. These guys simply went out and competed no matter what the cost.”
The improbable run started with UMass Lowell being ranked 20th in the country when the NCAA tourney started. Doucette’s team beat No. 5-ranked University of New Haven, which had beat them twice during the regular season, before besting No. 3 Alabama A&M.
“That was before 10,000 fans in Alabama,” Doucette recalled. “It was amazing.”
At the Final Four in Springfield, Lowell beat top-ranked Florida Southern, which had beaten four Div. 1 schools that year, and then Alaska Anchorage in the national title game.
Doucette later continued his successful coaching career at Div. 1 UNC-Asheville, S.W. Missouri State and Chaminade University in Hawaii before becoming an athletic director at Hamilton-Wenham.
He laughs when he recalls a question from a radio guy about Lowell repeating the next year.
“People don’t understand that that was a storybook season,” said Doucette. “To do it took a heck of a lot of overachievement.”
One of the best parts of the title was that Doucette’s two key pieces were local players — Bobby Licare of North Andover and Leo Parent of Lowell, both of whom played at Central Catholic.
“I think people forget how well-rounded Leo was,” Doucette said. “He truly was the definition of a team player. He could have scored a ton more points, but he played in a system to maximize team production. He was a 6-foot-6 post player for us that had the ability and did shoot the 3-point shot. But he was committed to sacrifice what was necessary for a team to reach their maximum potential.
“As for Bobby, we were the only school that offered him a full scholarship. Dick Licare is one of my closest friends. I have known the entire family for a long time and knew Bobby’s value. Bobby went to the foul line with two free throws to clinch a national championship. Normally, I’m a glass-is-half-empty kind of coach. But I was relaxed and confident ... He completed every kid’s dream with game on the line and the ball in his hand.”
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune and columnist for the Andover Townsman. You can contact him at email@example.com.