It’s opening night of a new schoolboy basketball season, so what better time to suggest who might emerge as the best in Eastern Maine come February.
Class A: Bangor, Brewer and Hampden Academy may represent the northern geographic fringe of the state’s Class A basketball world, but they also represent the epicenter of regional basketball supremacy in this division.
Hampden, Bangor and Brewer were ranked first, second and fourth, respectively, in a preseason coaches poll that involves all Eastern A teams, and for good reason.
Hampden did not graduate anyone from last year’s team, and added former Camden Hills standout Graham Safford, who transferred to the Broncos after helping the Windjammers win the Class B state title last winter.
Bangor returns just one starter in forward Zach Blodgett but boasts a deep reservoir of frontcourt talent and the tradition of having won five Eastern Maine titles and four state crowns this decade.
And Brewer, under new head coach Ben Goodwin, also returns a formidable cast from its best regular-season effort since the mid-1980s.
The pick: Hampden Academy
Class B: Reigning state champion Camden Hills of Rockport suffered some significant offseason losses, but what has made coach Jeff Hart’s club the best in class through the decade has been its quality of depth
The Windjammers are the favorite again this year, in part because of that depth and also because of returning players like All-Maine junior center Tyler McFarland and versatile 6-foot-5 classmate Keegan Pieri.
Rockland could be among Camden Hills’ chief rivals.
The pick: Camden Hills
Class C: Many teams have reason for hope. There’s Washington Academy, with guards Ben Teer and Noah Von Rotz to lead the way for new coach Steve Pineo.
There’s Foxcroft Academy, which has moved down from Class B and has its nucleus back virtually intact from last year’s tournament team. Woodland, the defending Class D state champion, has moved up a class, and while graduation losses were significant the Dragons should remain formidable.
Lee Academy, Orono, and Stearns of Millinocket all expect to field solid teams.
Then there’s the defending Maine Class C champion Calais Blue Devils, who will compete for their fifth straight regional title and fourth state crown in the last five years under coach Ed Leeman.
Calais will be bolstered by the return of junior center Cam Shorey from ACL surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2009-10 campaign. He’ll seek to replace older brother Cal, now at Union College, while Jeremy Carr, Ryan Cavanaugh and Josh Gillespie help provide veteran leadership.
The pick: Calais.
Class D: Schenck of East Millinocket drops from Class C with a solid returning cast, while Southern Aroostook of Dyer Brook, Fort Fairfield, Shead of Eastport, Katahdin of Stacyville and an up-and-coming Jonesport-Beals squad all figure to contend.
But it’s hard to look past perennial power Central Aroostook of Mars Hill, winner of three state titles in the last five years and a regional finalist last winter.
Coach Tim Brewer’s Panthers boast a solid returning cast along with considerable tradition and experience in big- game situations.
They should get the opportunity to play in plenty of big games again this winter.
The pick: Central Aroostook.
Good luck to all!