ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine men’s basketball team is building around a trio of proven commodities.
Junior post player Alasdair Fraser was an All-America East third-team choice last season, senior forward Mike Allison was an All-Defensive pick and sophomore guard Justin Edwards made the All-Rookie team.
“To have a really nice core back, even though we do have a lot of new faces over the last couple years, it gives us a great starting point to be able to put the pieces together,” said ninth-year UMaine coach Ted Woodward.
Ultimately, it will be the development of the Black Bears’ other returnees and the progress of their newcomers that will determine the fate of the 2012-13 squad.
UMaine is coming off a season during which it went 12-17 overall and 6-10 in America East play before bowing to eventual champion Vermont in the quarterfinals.
The anchor of the unit is Fraser, a 6-foot-7 powerhouse who averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds last season and shot 54 percent from the field.
“Ali is in fantastic shape, is very comfortable and confident in the post, and has worked on his face-up game,” Woodward said. “He’s clearly one of the key leaders on our basketball team.”
He is joined up front by Allison (7.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.2 blocks), a 6-9 senior forward who will be counted upon to be a two-way presence in the paint.
“Mike has been very active on the glass, has been able to find holes in the defense,” Woodward said. “He’s got defensive player of the year potential and we’re hoping he’s going to have a monster year for us.”
The versatile Edwards (13.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.4 steals per game) is dangerous attacking the basket off the dribble and excels in transition. He has worked on his outside shooting.
“We’re very excited about the different things he can do from that [shooting guard] spot,” Woodward said. “He’s always had a great understanding about his deficiencies and trying to make them into strengths.”
With only two seniors and two juniors on the roster, the Bears are banking on contributions from some less-experienced players in trying to build a cohesive unit.
“We had a lot of young guys on last year’s team that really came back the way you like freshmen to develop into sophomores,” Woodward said. “Those guys have worked very hard on their bodies, their skill level. They’ve come back with an understanding of the things that they’ve got to do as they become the core players in our program.”
Woodward was referring to players such as sophomore guards Edwards, Xavier Pollard and Zarko Valjarevic, along with sophomore forward Kilian Cato.
Pollard has stepped in at point guard after the departure of seniors Raheem Singleton and Andrew Rogers and provides a new dynamic there. The rugged Pollard and freshman Shaun Lawton give the Bears a much taller presence.
“Xavier is a gifted scorer, but he’s also a strong point guard that can get himself to the basket and has worked hard on his perimeter game,” Woodward said.
“To have two 6-3, 6-4 point guards really changes how we look defensively, if nothing else, at that spot and there’s a lot of different things that we’re able to do with them,” he added.
Valjarevic and senior Jon McAllian of Bangor hope to help UMaine re-establish a 3-point presence from the two-guard position after the loss of school career 3-point leader Gerald McLemore.
Adding to the team’s physical presence is 6-6 junior forward Jon Mesghna of Germany, a transfer from North Dakota State College of Science.
“He really is a glue guy for us, a guy that has a great understanding of defense,” Woodward said. “He’s a guy who does a lot of things.”
Up front, 6-8 freshman Till Gloger and rangy 6-9 freshman Stefan Micovic will be in the mix along with the 6-7 Cato, another 3-point threat.
“Till’s got a great body, is versatile, is able to score back-to-the-basket and face-up,” Woodward said.
“Stefan has got great athleticism, he can handle the basketball, he can shoot the ball,” he added. “We expect his curve to skyrocket through the course of this year.”
Freshman Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, a 6-5 swing player, is just rounding into shape. Sophomore transfer Leon Cooper, a combination guard, has been out with an injury thus far.
Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Mackey is back after knee surgery last year and sophomore guard Luke Hetterman of Bangor is a nonscholarship player.
Woodward said this year’s team has a significantly different look physically.
“We’re a lot bigger, a little stronger and a lot more athletic at some positions,” he said, pointing out some of the benefits.
“Rebounding is definitely an area that we wanted to address,” Woodward said. “It was definitely a weakness of ours last season. We feel like we got guys in who can help address that.”
UMaine’s diverse roster includes nine international players, including two each from Canada, Germany and Serbia and one apiece from Scotland, Finland and the Bahamas. The group has exhibited a good work ethic.
“It’s a group that’s been very engaging with each other and really loves the game of basketball,” Woodward said.
Edwards said the difference in the team’s internal chemistry has been markedly different.
“Last year we had a lot of talent but we didn’t work well as a team,” he said.
“Everyone has a good relationship with each other,” he added.