High School Boys Basketball

Unbeaten MDI focuses on the moment, seeks berth in top three

Posted Jan. 17, 2012, at 7:35 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — The Mount Desert Island boys basketball season came to an unfulfilling end last February.

The Trojans compiled a 14-4 regular-season record to earn a home playoff game, but then fell victim to Chris Braley and Nokomis of Newport and lost in the preliminary round for the fourth time in the last six years.

But there was no dwelling on the disappointment. Instead there was a focus on the future.

“I have one picture that I gave the players,” said MDI coach Justin Norwood, “and I told them if you ever feel tired look at this picture, and it was from the Bangor Daily News of a Nokomis girl cheering. Other than that we haven’t talked about last year.”

And there’s no reason not to look forward to a bright future, given that MDI is off to a 10-0 start this season — leaving the Trojans and Falmouth as the only Class B boys teams statewide without a loss entering Tuesday night’s play.

“They have another year of experience, I think that’s the big thing,” said Ellsworth coach Peter Austin, whose Eagles gave MDI its toughest test to date last Saturday before falling to the Trojans 55-53. “They went through it last year and have the same team back this year, so they know what it takes to win.”

Four of the five MDI starters also started a year ago, a contingent led by junior forward Ben Walls, the team’s leading scorer at 15.3 points per game.

“We’re older, we’re more mature, we know how to play better this year and we want it,” said Walls. “We don’t get down on ourselves. We know how to pick each other up now and keep getting after it.”

Walls is part of a versatile frontcourt that also includes senior forward Jayson Burke (8.9 points per game, team-leading 8.2 rebounds per contest) and junior center Adam Gray (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

“Jayson’s so athletic and he’s really coming into his own as to how to play the game,” said Norwood. “Adam’s got great hands, he’s a great passer and he really complements Jay great because you can’t double off him. And Ben’s so versatile, he can do so many different things that it gives us a lot of flexibility.”

That frontcourt is complemented by senior guards Nick Shaw (8.7 ppg) and Caleb MacDonald (7.5 ppg. 3.0 steals per contest).

“You can’t teach experience and we have it, so when we’re only up one or two points, our guys still understand what we’re trying to do,” said Norwood. “I think that maturity’s huge. Nick’s been playing on varsity for three years, Caleb for four and Ben for three years, so they really have a good understanding of what we’re trying to do.”

Shaw doubles as the team’s perimeter defensive stopper.

“He’s the best defensive player I’ve ever coached,” said Norwood. “I hope Jasper Cousins doesn’t read this because Jasper was fantastic, but Nick doesn’t lead the league in steals this year but he locks people down. He’s got a tremendous motor, he never stops.”

That defensive effort has helped MDI allow just 42.6 points per game, far less than its offensive output of 63.9 points per contest.

The Trojans have won all but two of their games by double figures.

“It’s really been one of those years where we do whatever it takes to win that night,” said Norwood.

The Trojans were to host Foxcroft Academy on Tuesday evening, then head to Aroostook County this weekend for games against Caribou on Friday and Presque Isle on Saturday.

There’s also a regular-season ending rematch looming against Ellsworth on Feb. 10 at Parady Gymnasium in Bar Harbor, a game that could go a long way toward determining if the Trojans earn a top-three finish in Eastern B and thus earn a preliminary-round bye directly to tourney week at the Bangor Auditorium.

But for this group, that’s looking too far ahead.

“We haven’t talked once about where we are in the standings, I don’t think we’ve talked once about our record,” said Norwood. “It’s one of things, a coach’s cliche, where we focus on the next game, and this team understands it, embraces it, and it’s awesome. It’s so much fun to coach it’s ridiculous.”

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