This year’s Central Aroostook of Mars Hill boys basketball team is largely the same team as last year’s tournament entry that was ousted in the regional quarterfinals, with all five starters back.
Yet from an offensive perspective, the Panthers are quite different than a year ago.
What then was a team that relied heavily on perimeter shooting is now a team that earned its fourth Eastern Maine Class D championship in the last seven years Saturday by working its way much closer to the basket.
The big reason? The development of Mike McClung, a 6-foot-6 junior center who teamed with 1,000-point scorer Caleb Kelly to give Central Aroostook a 1-2 inside punch its Eastern D rivals were unable to match during the team’s undefeated run to Saturday’s state final against Richmond at the Bangor Auditorium at 3:45 p.m.
“I think the big difference this year for us is Mike was able to establish himself inside as a low-post presence,” said Central Aroostook coach Tim Brewer. “We were able to go there and work off him, and Caleb on the high post fit with him perfectly.
“And my guards were able to knock down enough shots to keep people honest and they moved the ball well and were able to penetrate, so overall as a team that’s how we get it done.”
McClung’s improvement began during the offseason, both on the court and in the weight room.
“Fifty percent of his improvement came during the summer, and the other 50 percent came from us ragging on Mike to play bigger,” said Kelly, one of just two seniors in Central Aroostook’s core rotation. “We kind of pushed him, and he pushed himself. He did a great job, and we built the team around him because we needed a big guy and he was the perfect foundation for the guys we had.”
McClung has emerged as one of the team’s leaders in scoring and rebounding, in part because of his physical improvement.
“I feel I’m a lot stronger with the ball, I can jump higher and I’ve got better post moves,” said McClung.
He’s also become a more complete defender, according to his coach.
“I was hoping Mike would be where he is now last year, to be honest with you,” said Brewer. “Mike’s got an unreal amount of talent, I don’t think he knows how much talent he has. But his emergence this year is a big reason why we’re where we’re at now.
“He’s worked hard on his low-post game, but the most important thing he’s changed that’s really helped him is he’s staying on his feet defensively and blocking shots. Last year he was getting himself in foul trouble, leaving his feet wanting to block shots, and he’s also filled out physically. Last year he was pretty skinny, and I think him getting stronger has made a big difference.”
Football coaching changes
Mark LaFountain, head football coach at Mount Ararat School in Topsham, has resigned that post after four seasons.
LaFountain cited family reasons for his decision, as well as a change in work schedule in his job as a detective for the Topsham Police Department.
Mount Ararat went 8-25 with one Pine Tree Conference Class A playoff berth during LaFountain’s head coaching tenure. The Eagles finished 0-8 last fall.
In other PTC Class A coaching news, Oxford Hills of South Paris is expected to name its new varsity football coach at the local school board’s next meeting on March 7, according to the school’s athletic administrator, Jeff Benson.
The Vikings are seeking a replacement for Nate Danforth, who was not rehired after three seasons as head coach. Oxford Hills, which had not earned a postseason berth since 2005, went 2-22 under Danforth, including 1-7 each of the last two years.
Danforth remains the school’s track and field head coach, a position he’s held for the last five years.