The 2009-10 Class A schoolboy basketball season had a special quality in its northernmost reaches.
Bangor, Brewer and Hampden Academy all finished among the top four teams in Eastern Maine, packing gymnasiums as fans responded to the high quality of play led by the likes of Bangor Daily News All-Maine performers Clark Noonan of Bangor, Ray Bessette and Dom Drake of Brewer, and Jacob Moore of Hampden.
Only Bessette among that all-state cast returns this winter, but the potential is great for the region’s three big-school programs to return to the upper reaches of postseason play.
“”You’ve got Hampden and Bangor, and they’re always going to be up there,” said Brewer coach Ben Goodwin, “You’ve got Edward Little, which brings back some key players. Mt. Blue is going to be good, too. I think the league is going to be very strong again this year, and there’s going to be some great games with teams going head to head. It’s going to be fun.”
Edward Little of Auburn ultimately spoiled the Bangor-Brewer-Hampden party last winter, edging Bangor in the semifinals and Brewer in the EM championship game, and coach Mike Adams’ Red Eddies should be poised for another deep run with All-Maine forward Bo Leary, his brother Quin and point guard Tim Mains hoping to lead their team to a third straight regional title.
Bangor features the inside-outside tandem of senior forward Zach Blodgett and senior guard Tristan Thomas. The 6-foot-3 Blodgett, coming off off-season shoulder surgery, can take larger defenders outside and overwhelm smaller opponents near the basket, while Thomas is an accurate shooter from long distance as well as a top-perimeter defender.
The Rams also will benefit from the return to basketball of 6-foot-5 senior Josiah Hartley, who ran indoor track and field the last two winters but had 21 points and 12 rebounds in Bangor’s season-opening loss at Hampden.
Senior Luke Hettermann provides experience at point guard, while 6-foot-6 junior Patrick Stewart is another inside-outside threat at forward.
Brewer suffered the heaviest graduation losses among last year’s contenders, but in Bessette the Witches have a versatile perimeter leader who is equally adept at setting up teammates as he is searching out his own offense.
“Ray works very hard, and he’s played a lot of basketball over the summer on some very good teams and against some very good talent,” said Goodwin. “I think that’s made him better, and I think he’s becoming a more rounded player. He brings the whole package, but I also think he understands being the leader he is that he doesn’t have to go out and score 30 every game. If he can go out and get 10 assists and five rebounds and we can win a game, he’s happy with that.”
Juniors Yuhi Sasaki and Brad Billings also will be counted on to lend their experience to an otherwise youthful team.
Hampden Academy likewise returns one of the state’s top guards in senior Graham Safford, who opened the season with 29 points against Bangor but also is comfortable drawing the defensive attention and then passing off to teammates such as backcourt mate Christian McCue, a junior with one of the area’s more accurate shooting touches.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s club is less experienced on the interior but in juniors Fred Knight and Logan Poirier and senior Gabe Burditt has the height to challenge opposing frontcounts defensively.
“This is the team that I thought in the KVAC was the best team that we’d have to beat,” said Bangor coach Roger Reed of the Broncos. “Edward Little is another good team, but Hampden certainly has a lot of pieces. They’ve got very, very strong guard play which is essential, so our guards have got to get a lot better, and we’ve got to try to balance that out when we play them by containing their guards and doing a better job inside.”
Mt. Blue of Farmington, led by 6-foot-5 junior center Cam Sennick, is expected to be another contender in Eastern A, while Cony of Augusta hopes to build around 6-foot-5 junior Walker Cooper.
“Bangor’s very good, Mt. Blue’s very good, Edward Little’s very good, and Brewer has a very good player who concerns me,” said Bartlett. “We’re in that mix, too. If our big guys can rebound and make layups, our guards can do most of the heavy lifting and then they just have to do their jobs.
“If they can get a little stronger with the basketball, make their layups and be men on the glass, then defensively we can be pretty good.”