Thursday was a day for making acquaintances and renewing old friendships for the University of Maine’s two head basketball coaches.
Veteran men’s coach Ted Woodward and first-year women’s coach Richard Barron were on hand at the Connecticut State Capitol in Hartford, Conn., for the 2011 America East Basketball Tipoff Luncheon.
The Black Bear men, who finished third in the regular-season standings and lost in the quarterfinals of the America East championship last season, were picked to finish sixth in the nine-team league.
The UMaine women, who wound up the 2010-11 campaign 4-25, in last place and dropped a first-round game against Stony Brook, were picked to finish ninth.
Both UMaine coaches put little importance on the preseason voting by America East coaches.
“We’ve lost some guys to graduation, we have some guys back, and a lot of it has to do with how much returning ‘power’ you have,” Woodward said of the poll. “That’s why we play the games.”
He pointed out that Vermont, last season’s regular-season champion, had been picked fifth in that preseason poll.
Barron was blunt in his evaluation of what meaning the poll might have for his UMaine ballclub.
“I don’t think they’re meaningful at all,” he said. “It looked like we regurgitated last year’s standings.”
As far as what is relevant at this juncture of the preseason, Barron offered a thought.
“We’re learning how to set screens right now,” he said with a laugh. “We don’t need any external motivation right now.”
On the men’s side, UMaine is coming off a 15-15 season. The Bears return eight players, including three-time All-America East selection and 2011 All-District choice Gerald McLemore.
McLemore, the leading returning scorer in America East with 1,199 career points, was named Thursday to the 2011-12 All- America East Preseason Team.
Also returning is two-time America East All-Academic Team pick Andrew Rogers, who was among the league assist leaders last season, and fellow senior Raheem Singleton, who was third in the conference and led the team with 3.7 assists per game last season.
Defending champion Boston University was named the men’s favorite with six first-place votes and 62 points. Last season’s tournament runner-up, Stony Brook, was picked second with the other three first-place votes and 56 points.
Vermont was third (46) followed by Albany (42), New Hampshire (39), Maine (32), Hartford (18), UMBC (18) and Binghamton (11).
The UMaine men will conduct their first official, full-squad practice Friday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Gym, then will be back at it Saturday for two sessions at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“If people want to come watch, they’re certainly more than welcome,” Woodward said, noting there will be plenty of buzz on campus during homecoming weekend, including Saturday’s 1 p.m. football game against Rhode Island.
Getting the full squad on the court will be important for a UMaine men’s team that includes seven first-year players.
“It’s nice to be able to get the full practices, when you can build on things,” Woodward said.
Last year’s regular-season women’s champion, UMBC (60), has been picked to finish first, followed by BU (56), tournament titlist Hartford (54), Binghamton (43), Albany (37), UNH (25), Vermont (22), Stony Brook (15) and Maine (12).
Key returnees for the UMaine women include senior Brittany Williams and sophomores Amber Smith and Ashleigh Roberts.