If you ask the players, it was more the mental game. If you ask the coaches, that was just part of it.
Whatever the underlying cause of the University of Maine men’s basketball team’s late-game woes and frustrating 9-21 season, the Black Bears think they have the pieces in place for marked improvement.
The first test of that theory comes tonight as the Bears play the first of four nonconference road games with an 8 p.m. tipoff against the Fordham University Rams.
“We just couldn’t quite finish some things off and a lot of that had to do with consistency and experience,” said head coach Ted Woodward. “I like our chemistry, the parts we have, the talent we have, and the potential versatility we have.”
It’s that versatility which will be both a plus and a pain in the early going as Woodward tries out various combinations, different starting fives, and adjusted player rotations while also trying returning and new players in multiple positions and roles.
Shooting guard is set along with power forward as sophomore Gerald McLemore and Sean McNally, respectively, have those starting slots nailed down. The rest is a work in progress, primarily because of the squad’s versatility:
ä At 6-foot-7, Troy Barnies is the same height but lighter than McNally, yet he can alternate at both forward slots and play on the wing as well. Ditto for freshman forward Murphy Burnatowski and sophomore transfer forward Travon Wilcher, who becomes eligible next semester.
ä Both sophomore Svetoslav Chetinov and freshman Mike Allison are 6-9 and can play both forward and center.
“Our post game is something we’ll be focused on, but there are a number of different options,” Woodward said. “We also have a couple of guys who are on the edge of being potential all-conference players, so if they can elevate their games and we have some of the new guys make contributions, we can be a good team, even as tough as our schedule is, especially the early, nonconference portion.”
Junior college transfer guards Terrance Mitchell and Jerrell Boswell can both play shooting and point guard while senior Junior Bernal and Andrew Rogers can play the point.
“I can do point, go to the wing, it really doesn’t matter. Whatever we need, I’ll do,” Bernal said. “I think we’ve got a strong, all-around team.”
McLemore, who tried to get with the unofficial team offseason program of bulking up a bit, already sees a difference with this year’s Maine squad.
I put on about 10 pounds and I think that will allow me to drive inside a little more,” McLemore said. “I believe we’ll be much bigger with more power inside people.”
“We have a lot of talent on this team, and we compete against each other and push each other a lot more than I’ve seen before,” Bernal added.
Now it’s their turn to compete against someone in a different uniform — for real.