ORONO, Maine — Coach Ted Woodward hasn’t had many options in the frontcourt early in the 2011-12 season.
With the University of Maine having lost three players to injury, the remaining three post players were taxed to the limit. He even moved shooting guard Jon McAllian of Bangor to forward to shore up the unit.
However, Woodward and the Black Bears received a couple of early Christmas presents this week when junior forward Mike Allison and senior forward Travon Wilcher returned to practice after six weeks on the shelf.
“Having those bodies back is big for us,” Woodward said. “Mike and Travon give us a different element on our basketball team that we’ve been missing a little bit.”
Both Wilcher and Allison practiced for the first time Wednesday and they were on the court for Friday afternoon’s workout at Memorial Gym. Their availability is expected to be somewhat limited for upcoming home games Monday against Utah Valley and Wednesday against Eastern Illinois in “The Pit.”
The 6-foot-9 Allison was expected to move in to a starting role this season after the graduation of Troy Barnies of Auburn and Gardiner’s Sean McNally. Woodward said Allison had been among the team’s top performers during the offseason and preseason.
However, Allison broke a bone in his right hand on Dec. 1 when he collided with teammate Svetoslav Chetinov during practice. The injury came the day after he had missed two weeks because of a concussion.
“I put in a lot of work in the preseason and even in the summer before that. I was really disappointed,” Allison said.
Allison, who averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game last season, provides UMaine with a tall, athletic player inside.
He had the hand surgically repaired, complete with a metal pin and six screws.
“It doesn’t feel too bad, though,” Allison offered. “As soon as I got everything cleared, I was dribbling and putting myself through enough torture to get it good.”
Wilcher was out for about the same amount of time. He was suffering from a foot injury that required him to wear a walking cast.
The 6-7 transfer from the University of Massachusetts also provides the Bears with a more agile presence to complement rugged post players Alasdair Fraser and Chetinov.
“Mike and Travon are a little more mobile, a little more up and down, above the rim, so there’s things they do that the other guys can’t do,” Woodward said. “It’s good when you have all those elements in addition to Kilian (Cato).”
The Black Bears can use a boost in the frontcourt, where foul trouble has plagued Fraser and Cato in recent weeks. UMaine has been outrebounded by an average of 7.1 per game so far this season.
The return of Wilcher and Allison should help alleviate those difficulties.
“It’s definitely going to help in the rebounding aspect and the defensive aspect down low,” said senior guard Gerald McLemore.
“Those 50-50 balls in the air for rebounds will get smacked down, which will give us more possessions on the offensive end and it limits the other team with possessions at the defensive end,” he added.
Woodward conceded it likely will take UMaine some time for Allison and Wilcher regain confidence and aggressiveness. There also is the issue of re-establishing on-court chemistry with new personnel groupings.
Elsewhere on the injury front, senior guard Raheem “Radio” Singleton continues to deal with an ankle injury that has significantly slowed him.
He has been limited in practice to facilitate the healing process, but has responded when called upon.
“He’s missed a lot of practice time and we’re trying to get him healthy,” Woodward said. “I give him credit for going out there and playing through some stuff. Hopefully, we can get him healthy now.”