by Bruce Wood
A lot of college basketball coaches would find the idea of joining a program that has gone 3-42 in conference play over the previous three years somewhere on the far side of daunting.
Jean Bain isn't one of them.
When you've stared down Hodgkin's disease and can casually call it nothing more than "a minor setback," how scary can it be trying to grab a recruit from Princeton or a win over Harvard?
Bain, an assistant at the University of New Hampshire for the past seven years, moved across the state in early October after Ricky Moore resigned from Paul Cormier's staff to return to Connecticut as assistant director of basketball administration.
"It was very difficult leaving New Hampshire," admitted Bain, a former standout guard at Northeastern. "We had a tight-knit staff and I owe a lot to coach Bill Herrion, who gave me my first opportunity at this level. I recruited most of the players over there and had a great bond with them, so that made it harder.
"It was a tough time to leave, but Coach Herrion was very supportive of the decision because he knew how hard I had worked. And that different scenery and trying to help Dartmouth get off the ground would be good for me as a coach."
Herrion said exactly that to the Union Leader: "It's obviously not great timing, but it's a great move for Jean for a couple of reasons. It expands his resumé, being on an Ivy League staff is valuable experience to have, and he gets a substantial pay raise. It's a good professional move and everyone here told him it's a move he's got to make."
Hanover is Bain's third stop at the college coaching level. Prior to UNH he helped out for a year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which just-so-happened to go 24-4 and advance to the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 that winter. The WPI job reunited Bain with head coach Chris Bartley, an assistant when he starred at Medford (Mass.) High School.
Inducted this November into the Medford Hall of Fame, Bain was the first 1,000-point scorer in school history.
The youngest of seven children, he had lived in Haiti until he was nine when his father, Ophane, and mother, Vilemene, moved the family to the United States in search of a better life for their kids.
Taught the game by older brother Ludger, still the Wentworth Institute record-holder for points in a season, Bain drew recruiting interest as a Medford senior from America East schools like Boston University, Drexel and Northeastern. A speedy guard with a reputation as a driver and a shooter, he even was on the radar of Big East member Providence.
But while Bain would go on to be named the Greater Boston League MVP as a high school senior, most of the recruiting attention faded away in the days and weeks following a loss to a powerhouse South Boston team led by future UMass players Monty Mack and Jonathan DePina in the semifinals of the Massachusetts state tournament.
It wasn't what happened on the court that led most of his suitors to walk away. It was something much scarier that coincided with Medford's state tournament run.
"I woke up one morning and was going to get breakfast and my mother noticed that my neck looked bigger than usual," Bain recalled. "I didn't notice and told her it was from lifting. She said, 'No, no, no, there is something there.'
"I didn't think there was anything to it and went on with my daily life and played in the South Boston game. Then I went to the doctors to have it checked out."
It was a good thing he did.
"They did a biopsy and a couple of weeks later I found out the news," he said. "It was Hodgkin's in my neck. I didn't notice anything but my mother did, thank God. The great thing was they caught it early, in the first stage."
In addition to four weeks of radiation treatment, Bain had his spleen surgically removed as a preventative measure, even though tests indicated it was healthy.
"I was in the hospital for about a week and a half and lost a lot of weight," he said. "That was difficult. The radiation part was difficult too, but at least I didn't have chemo. I didn't have bone marrow or anything like that, so it kind of made it a little bit easier."
The good news was that Bain was given a clean bill of health after the treatment and 17 years later he's the picture of health. The bad news at the time was that some of the schools recruiting him were scared away by the thought that he might not be ready to go in the fall.
"Recruiting kind of fell off," he said. "Everybody had been looking for me to come on that year to play. The one school that stuck with me even when I was sick was Northeastern."
To give himself a chance to regain his strength and better prepare for the college classroom, Bain opted for a year at Bridgton Academy after committing to the Huskies. He ended up averaging 24.4 point and 7.7 assists at the Maine prep school while scoring a school-record 610 points.
"I needed a year to get my strength and kind of get my basketball skills back," he said. "Bridgton was one of the best years of my life. There's no better place to get focused. It was the best thing that ever could have happened to me."
Although the big year on the court turned the heads of some of the schools that had been recruiting him a year earlier, Bain's head wasn't turned.
"I had a very good year there and everybody wanted to come back in and try to recruit me," he said. "I am a very loyal person, so I stuck to my word and went to Northeastern."
As a freshman Bain averaged 9.9 points per game and was named the America East Rookie of the Year. Before his career finished he would score 974 points, dish out 320 assists, captain the team and be chosen Northeastern MVP as a senior.
Then came a tough decision.
"As every kid does, you want to continue playing after you graduate and I had a couple of chances," he said. "Nothing was the right situation, but I knew I wanted to stay involved in the game so I went back to my old high school to start coaching."
He first met Paul Cormier through Cormier's nephew Jeff Rafferty, a former colleague at UNH and now an assistant at Delaware. When the chance to join Cormier in Hanover arose Bain was excited.
"I've been lucky to play for people like Frank Martin (Kansas State head coach and former Northeastern assistant) and Ron Everheart (former Northeastern coach now at Duquesne) and then work for Bill Herrion, who has had so much success at this level," Bain said. "Now I have the chance to learn from someone who has coached in the NBA and has already had success at this level."
Among the things he's learned already is that much of what the outside world thinks about Ivy Leaguers is fiction.
"People told me the kid here would be different," he said. "You won't be able to yell at them and coach them. I found the opposite here. These guys want to be coached. They want to get better. Having guys who are this motivated and want to be pushed has made it easier for me.
"I'm excited to be here. It is going to take some time, but I think the pieces are here to get it off the ground and get it rebuilt."