When the University of Maine-Presque Isle men’s basketball team takes the court against the University of Maine at Alfond Arena tonight, even the most optimistic member of the UMPI squad would have to admit the prospect of victory is a longshot at best.
But that’s not the main goal of the NCAA Division III Owls’ trip down from Aroostook County. It’s just one of many.
For the players, it’s a chance to measure themselves against the state’s only NCAA Division I men’s program and some of the best players in New England, let alone the Maine collegiate and high school ranks. For rookie head coach Terry Cummings, it’s a unique opportunity to catch up with a fellow favorite son from his hometown, measure his team’s talent and desire against the toughest matchup on his entire schedule, and perhaps pick up a few coaching tips in the process.
“We’re relishing the chance to play a Division I team,” said Cummings, who is three games into his first season as a collegiate head coach after coaching the Greater Houlton Christian Academy boys team the last seven years. “This is a game you just throw stuff out there and hope it works for three or four minutes.
“We want to take these experiences against top teams to build ourselves up, and hopefully play up at a higher level to be ready for conference play.”
Cummings, 40, and UMaine junior guard Mark Socoby, the Black Bears’ leading scorer, are both from Houlton.
“It means the world to me. I was the JV coach at Houlton when he was in eighth grade and I still see him around a lot in the summer,” said Cummings, a former BDN All-Maine third-team selection. “It’s a little extra special to have him playing against us.”
Cummings’ current players agree, but for different reasons.
“I have guys coming into my office every day saying ‘Can I guard Socoby. Can I guard Socoby?’” Cummings said. “We don’t have any guys that big to play like him in practice, so it’s a unique challenge for them.”
Cummings, a 2,000-point scorer at UMPI (Class of 1991) has had to hit the ground running since being hired in August. He also coaches UMPI’s volleyball team with his wife, and had to do double-duty for a month before the volleyball season ended.
Cummings returns only one men’s basketball player who was on the squad for both semesters last season. The Owls’ are not at full strength as two players will be joining, and another rejoining the team after being academically ineligible.
“We’re really hurting, depth-wise,” Cummings said. “We were picked near the bottom [for the conference], but with a couple key additions next semester, we can compete with the other teams in the Sunrise Conference.”