ORONO, Maine — There are barely three weeks left until the start of conference play for the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
As coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears (3-6) continue trying to reconfigure a team with several newcomers in key roles, they’re hoping to develop some chemistry with a handful of new players while building some needed depth.
The known commodities coming into the season were junior All-America East third-team forward Alasdair Fraser, sophomore guard and all-rookie choice Justin Edwards and an all-defensive team pick in senior forward Mike Allison.
Edwards has emerged as the leading scorer (16.3 points per game) and Fraser (12.9 ppg, 9.3 rebounds per game) has paced the frontcourt crew. Allison has been steady, averaging 6.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
Sophomore Xavier Pollard (10.6 ppg, 4.6 assists per game, 4.4 rpg) has elevated his game, providing a strong, aggressive leader at point guard.
After that, UMaine has been trying to fit several new pieces into its puzzle.
Junior transfer Jon Mesghna (6.6 ppg) has garnered a starting role by providing a much-needed 3-point shooting presence, connecting at 39 percent (14-for-36). The Bears are shooting only 25 percent from distance as a team.
Sophomore guard Zarko Valjarevic (3.8 ppg) has played in all nine games, averaging 11.7 minutes, but the starting group has accounted for 72 percent of the Black Bears’ total minutes played.
“There are a lot of other guys — Till, Stefan, Shaun, Dimitry — some other guys, that haven’t been able to get a ton of minutes due to injury or because of some of the games we’ve played so far,” Woodward said, “but we have tremendous confidence in their ability to get out there and do some things with the other mix of guys.”
Freshman forward Till Gloger (4.4 ppg) has been the only productive backup up front, averaging 13.9 minutes in eight games, including one start. Freshman forward Stefan Micovic has begun seeing some spot time, joining senior Jon McAllian of Bangor and sophomore Kilian Cato, who have played reserve roles thus far.
UMaine’s backcourt has been plagued by injury and illness. Sophomore transfer Leon Cooper has averaged only 12.6 minutes in five contests because of an undisclosed illness, while freshman point guard Shaun Lawton (3.5 apg) is working his way back from a foot/ankle issue.
Freshman Dimitry Akanda-Coronel, whose participation was delayed because of an NCAA Clearinghouse eligibility issue resulting from a clerical error, is just now rounding into shape.
The 6-foot-4 Akanda-Coronel made three 3-pointers in Sunday’s loss at Florida State and appears to be starting to settle into the system.
“We’re very pleased with Dimitry. Obviously, we wish we had him earlier in the season,” Woodward said.
“He was confident. He’s certainly going to help us,” he added.
Lawton is showing promise now that he’s more healthy. The 6-4 playmaker’s development will be key in providing a complement to Pollard while enabling Edwards to play mostly at the shooting guard position.
“Shaun had a tremendous preseason for us, but Shaun’s been hurt,” Woodward said. “He’s starting to understand the pace of the game.”
The ability of the Bears to supplement their front-line players is expected to impact their ability to pick up some wins during their last four games of 2012 before opening the America East schedule Jan. 2 against Boston University.
UMaine plays Friday at Army, then faces Marist on Sunday.
Blodgett receives praise
Cindy Blodgett may have a much lower profile as an assistant coach at the University of Rhode Island than she did as UMaine’s head coach, but she is still making an impact.
The former Black Bears All-American player is in her second season with the Rams on the staff of head coach Cathy Inglese.
The New England coaching fixture, who spent 15 seasons at Boston College (1993-2008) after seven years at Vermont (1986-1993), is pleased with Blodgett’s contributions.
“Her passion for on-court development is very high,” Inglese said. “She is also our liaison with our strength and conditioning coach for offseason development.”
Inglese explained that Blodgett works primarily with Rhode Island’s guards and also does scouting and recruiting.
“As a player and resident of New England she certainly has a lot of ties with high school and AAU coaches,” Inglese said.
However, it is Blodgett’s ability to work effectively with the players that stands out. Inglese pointed to her experience, passion and knowledge of the game as key dynamics.
“Cindy is a tremendous person and has a great passion for the game and teaching players skill development,” Inglese said. “Her relationship with our players is terrific because she is very open to spending time listening to them to offer encouragement or the right pathway for improvement.”