When the Maine Maritime Academy men’s basketball team takes the court in a season-opener on the road tonight against the University of Maine-Machias, they’ll be doing so with a few hindrances.
“We’re very undermanned, numbers-wise,” said head coach Chris Murphy. “We’re also young and inexperienced with two starters back and eight of our guys being sophomores or freshmen.”
Murphy isn’t exaggerating. He currently has 10 players, only two of whom are seniors (Jarred Sternbergh and Joe Mulcahy) and two of whom are returning starters (forward Sternbergh and sophomore guard Paul Campbell).
“For different reasons, we don’t have a full complement, but we do have one player coming back in January and if the football season ever ends, we hope to have a couple of guys from their team join us as well,” Murphy said. “But that will take some time.”
In the meantime, Murphy is happy to work closely with the small squad, providing more individual attention than usual.
The starting five includes the 6-foot-1 Campbell from Camden, the 6-3 Sternbergh of Jonesboro, 6-4 sophomore center Shawn Dostie of Bowdoinham, and 6-foot sophomore guards Sam Bell and Tyler Pineo from Calais and Corinth, respectively.
“Guys like Bell and Pineo got a little playing time last year,” Murphy said. “Although we’re young, the good thing is the seniors we have are both vocal leaders, which we can use.”
The first three guys off the bench should be Mulcahy, 6-0 sophomore guard Brett Mitchell of Mount Desert Island, and 5-10 freshman guard Ben Russell of Farmington. Russell played varsity soccer at MMA this fall.
“Ben has already shown us a lot in two weeks and Sam Bell may really blossom as a sophomore this year. … He does a lot of things that don’t always show up in the stats,” Murphy said.
Sophomore 6-4 center Matt Baum of Scarborough and 6-4 freshman forward Benyang Yu of Hamburg, Germany, round out the roster.
While conditioning will be an important factor for the Mariners, who went 9-17 last season, it shouldn’t be a problem, according to Murphy.
“Believe it or not, no because just through the course of regular practice, they should be well conditioned already because they’re always on the court doing something, unlike a game,” Murphy explained. “We’ve only had all 10 players for seven of our 27 practices.”
Roster size won’t dictate MMA’s traditional style of play in Murphy’s 18th season with the Mariners. They’ll be more of a perimeter-oriented team with a shortage of size and will still go exclusively with man-to-man defense.
“We’re not going to change things much. “We’ll run when we can, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we will be uptempo all the time,” said Murphy. “We are very thin up front for the first time in a long time, so we’ll be outsized in most games. We have to neutralize that with quickness and shooting.”
More than anything, Murphy’s emphasis will be on the mental game.
“We legitimately could have a season where we don’t win a lot of games and still be successful,” he said. “As a coach, if we do get off to a slow start, my challenge is to keep the kids from getting down on themselves and keep improving.”