HAMPDEN, Maine — The outset of the 2012-13 season will not be without major challenges for the Hampden Academy boys basketball team.
Trying to maintain the status of its immediate predecessor — the reigning Eastern Maine Class A champion — or better yet go one victory further in pursuit of a state title is a formidable ambition given the anticipated balance within the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference ranks and the knowledge that the Broncos will be a prime target for Heal point-hungry opponents.
“It’s a motivator,” said Cam Scott, a junior guard for a Hampden team that has been picked to repeat as regional champions in a preseason poll of KVAC coaches. “Everybody’s going to give us their best and since we know that we’re just going to have to come out harder every night.”
Scott, a reserve last winter, faces a considerable individual challenge — helping to make up for the graduation loss of the state’s 2012 Mr. Basketball, Christian McCue, now working his 3-point shooting magic as a freshman at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec.
So, too, must Hampden replace the height and talent of two other recent graduates, 6-foot-7-inch Fred Knight and 6-foot-6-inch Logan Poirier.
“We’re going to have better footspeed this year,” said 10th-year Broncos’ coach Bartlett. “We’re going to be big but not as big as we were last year. We’re definitely going to be a little more athletic and I look for us to play a little bit differently with some of our concepts staying the same.”
Hampden must not only replace the basketball skill and savvy of those graduated veterans, but also the intangibles they provided to a team that won its first regional championship since 2006 before falling to Deering of Portland 59-50 in last winter’s state final.
“We lost quite a lot of leadership from last year in Christian, Fred and Logan,” said junior forward Zach Gilpin, the team’s top returning scorer from last year’s 20-2 team. “But the new leaders will emerge and then everyone else will follow.”
And while there is a familiarity about these Broncos with Gilpin, Scott and senior forwards Matt Palmer, Brian Fickett and Tyler Norris all returning from last year’s rotation, there also is a newness about this year’s team.
The roster includes four freshmen — Nick Gilpin, Jake Black, Conar Moore and Brendan McIntyre — who will provide varying degrees of immediate help while offering considerable hope for the program’s continued success in coming years.
“Obviously we’re missing Mr. Basketball and that’s a big loss, so we’re rebuilding,” Scott said. “We have a lot of youth on the team with four freshmen swinging up who all have the potential of being good players, but we’re all working hard in practice and getting better every day.”
Bartlett is optimistic the mix of veterans and newcomers will provide a quality of depth that will produce challenging practices and steady improvement — mostly within the confines of a 1,200-seat gymnasium that is one of the focal points of the new Hampden Academy complex that opened this fall.
“It’s pretty exciting to be in the new gym,” Palmer said. “It gets everybody up for wanting to win that first game there.”
After visiting Bangor to open their season opener Friday night, the Broncos will play their first home game in their new digs against Skowhegan next Tuesday — and the players aren’t the only ones who can’t wait.
“I think it adds a lot of excitement,” said Bartlett, himself a Newburgh native and Hampden Academy graduate. “We had a tournament there the first Friday [of preseason], and it’s rare that I get excited for a preseason game but I was really excited. I walked into the gym at 7:30 in the morning — we didn’t play until about noontime — just to see how it looked with the bleachers out.
“I think the community is excited to get into that new building to watch basketball games, and I’m excited to coach there.”
Bartlett, who has amassed a 129-56 coaching record at his alma mater with three Eastern Maine titles and the 2005 Class A state championship to his teams’ credit, hopes the new gym and the new roles being assumed by some of his veteran players will serve as added guards against taking success for granted as the new season begins.