HAMPDEN, Maine — Few, if any, teams statewide can match the impressiveness of the Hampden Academy boys basketball team’s 9-0 start this winter.
The Broncos lead Eastern Maine Class A in both most points scored per game (68.3) and in fewest points allowed per game (39.0).
They’ve yet to have an opponent come within single digits of them, and since a season-opening 52-41 win at Bangor, their closest contest has been a 66-46 victory at Brewer on Dec. 28.
Hampden’s average margin of victory before Tuesday night’s win over at Mount Ararat of Topsham was 29.3 points per game.
“I wouldn’t say it’s coming easy,” said Hampden senior forward Matt Palmer, one of two starters back from last winter’s 20-2 team that won the Eastern Maine championship before bowing to Deering of Portland in the Class A state final.
“I would say it’s more that we just want it a lot. Last year didn’t end how we wanted it to end, and we’ve come back this year and are really hungry for the big goal that we have. I think that’s all it is.”
The integration of former reserves into starting roles and younger players into contributing positions has gone so well to date that the late stages of most games have evolved into a developmental period for the back end of a roster that includes four freshmen.
“I think we worry about winning the game early, just getting it done quick and getting everyone playing,” said Palmer. “That helps us out in the long run because the more players we get in there playing, the more experience everybody has in the big environment, which is good.”
Perhaps most noteworthy about Hampden’s on-court performance has been its offensive efficiency. In an age in which defenses generally have come to dominate more and more at the upper echelons of Maine high school basketball, Hampden’s first eight games have produced some significant offensive achievements.
The Broncos are shooting 51 percent as a team on their 2-point field-goal attempts, with frontcourt players Brian Fickett (61 percent), Zach Gilpin (58 percent) and Tyler Norris (54 percent) leading the way.
Hampden also has more assists (139) than turnovers (111) so far this winter, with primary ball handlers Palmer and point guard Cam Scott each with an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 2-to-1.
Hampden also has registered an assist on nearly 70 percent of its field goals to date, with 139 assists on 200 field goals.
The secret to that success is relatively simple, according to Hampden coach Russ Bartlett. It’s making the extra pass.
“They know when we draw two (a double team), that basically if we make two passes, we’re going to get a wide open shot,” said Bartlett. “Some teams can make the one pass, but it’s very few teams that will make two, and we make two and that’s why we get open shots. Everyone kind of grasps the idea and everyone’s unselfish about it, and so we make sure we make two (passes).”
That everyone on the team has bought into the two-pass philosophy is evidenced in the team’s balanced offensive production. Zach Gilpin, a junior forward and the other returning starter from last winter’s EM title team, leads the club with 15.5 points per game, followed by Norris (11.4), freshman guard Nick Gilpin (8.6), Palmer (7.4) and Fickett and Scott at six points per game apiece.