With the University of Maine men’s basketball team coming off a 12-17 season, head coach Ted Woodward has come under scrutiny by some critics.
UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott, who in December awarded Woodward a three-year contract extension through June 2015, remains steadfast in his support of the Black Bears’ eighth-year head coach.
He evaluates Woodward, who earns $100,000 per year, on more than wins and losses.
“Ted’s a coach who really does a great job in all aspects of managing a college student-athlete and he’s somebody who supports them both athletically and academically,” Abbott said. “He’s done a great job putting quality kids in this program who are fine athletes but who represent the school well and that, I think, is a reflection of the head coach.”
UMaine struggled during its America East Conference schedule, going 6-11 against league opponents. The Bears were the No. 7 seed in the AE tournament, which is one spot lower than what conference coaches predicted in their preseason poll, and lost to Vermont in the quarterfinals.
UMaine lost seven of its last eight contests overall after dropping eight of its last nine during the 2010-11 campaign.
The lackluster conference record was magnified by the Bears’ 8-5 start, which included competitive efforts in losses to Connecticut and Notre Dame.
“We finished about where people projected us to finish, but it had a real feeling of disappointment because the team showed such potential at points over the course of the season,” Abbott said.
He pointed out some of the challenges the Bears faced, including key injuries to junior Mike Allison and senior Svetoslav Chetinov, and the resulting lack of frontcourt depth. UMaine also experienced growing pains associated with using three first-year players — Justin Edwards, Kilian Cato and Xavier Pollard — extensively.
“When Mike and Alasdair [Fraser] had to go it alone in there, it was a much tougher run for them than when somebody was there to take some pressure off them,” Abbott offered. “We really missed having Svet, his big presence, in there.”
The Bears also had lost five key contributors from the 2010-11 ballclub coming into this season.
Abbott acknowledged the league losing streaks of five and four games were disappointing to all involved.
“It was tough on those guys emotionally this season,” he said.
Still, he doesn’t believe there were any underlying issues involving the relationship between Woodward and the players that would have contributed to the inconsistency.
“They’ve all been committed and worked hard and been supportive of Ted and all their coaches,” Abbott said.
He is confident UMaine will continue to be competitive as Woodward and his staff try to bring in players to help fill the void left by the outgoing senior class, which also includes school career 3-point leader Gerald McLemore and guards Andrew Rogers and Raheem Singleton.
“[Woodward’s] not satisfied where the team is, but I know that he loves the core of the team that is coming back, as do I. There’s a couple pieces that are missing,” said Abbott, who lauded the seniors for their efforts.
Despite having lost nine players, including eight seniors, the past two seasons, UMaine has some strong building blocks in Fraser, Allison, Edwards, Pollard and Cato. The Bears also will look for expanded contributions from Jon McAllian of Bangor and Zarko Valjarevic along with the return of injured Noam Laish and Ethan Mackey and the arrival of any newcomers.
Looking at the big picture, Abbott appreciates the way Woodward goes about his job on a daily basis.
“In terms of being a co-worker and administrator, he’s been exceptional in the business aspects of the coaching job,” Abbott said. “Things you don’t see on the court, but things that are a very important part of the job.”
UMaine women take first step
Abbott commended first-year UMaine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron for helping generate a bit of momentum going into next season.
The Bears went 8-23, doubling their win total from the previous season, and won an America East tournament game for the first time in seven tries.
“I loved the way this team played down the stretch,” Abbott said. “They played extremely well together.
Seniors Samantha Baranowski, Brittany Williams and the injured Samantha Wheeler are going out on a somewhat positive note.
“I was so pleased for those three players in particular to have that experience and to have that success after all they’ve been through,” Abbott said.
However, the UMaine women remain a team very much in transition.
Still, there have been challenges. Four players — including freshman Rebecca Knight of Alfred — have left the program. That leaves Barron and UMaine with only seven returning players, but Abbott believes Barron is putting the program back on track.
“He’s the right fit for the program and he has embraced the challenge,” Abbott said.
“He’s very methodical about doing the things that need to be done to build the program, but also in terms of providing that inspirational lift to both the players and the fans,” he added.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect reference to the time of Woodward’s contract extension. Abbott announced the three-year extension on Dec. 22, 2011.