BANGOR, Maine — This season marks Warren Caruso’s 20th as the head coach of the Husson University men’s basketball team.
For the first time in his notable career, his squad has opened the season with a 10-0 record.
Husson has taken advantage of its talent and unselfishness while working toward defending its North Atlantic Conference championship.
The Eagles, who are 4-0 in league play, have built around their considerable experience. Husson lost six seniors off last season’s NAC title team, but it received another year of eligibility for Brooks Spaulding of Fairfield and welcomed back senior Mike Gonzales, who did not play last winter.
The team also features seniors Phil Leighton of Naples, Corey Wood, Jacob Moore of Hampden, Donte Cottonham and Dan Fleming of Fairfield.
Other veterans include junior Aaron Willis and sophomore Trevon Butler.
That large group of upperclassmen has set a positive tone.
“There’s good experience, good understanding and a high level of trust with this group,” Caruso said. “They just play really well together.”
The Eagles already have been forced to deal with adversity. Freshman shooting guard Raheem Anderson, who was their leading scorer (12.4 points per game), broke his ankle playing ball during the semester break and is out for the rest of the season.
“He has a very diverse game. He has a very mature understanding of the game,” Caruso said.
Anderson also averaged 3.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists.
Husson also is presently without the services of Moore (8.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.1 steals per game). He broke a bone in his hand during a December practice.
“We’re looking forward to getting Jacob back, probably in a couple weeks, depending on how his next appointment goes,” Caruso said.
However, this team has been blessed with depth, balance and versatility.
Husson has built its early success around aggressive man-to-man defense. Opponents are shooting only 29 percent from 3-point range, and the Eagles have kept their fouls in check despite ranking 18th in Division III with 10.6 steals per game.
Offensively, they have five active players averaging between 10.7 and 9.7 points per game, paced by Spaulding (12.4 ppg), Leighton (10.5), Willis (10.2), Butler (10.1) and Cottonham (9.7). Moore (8.1), Fleming (6.1) and Gonzales (4.9) also have been regular contributors.
“Our balance and ability to score in a lot of different ways makes our balance come through even more because you’ve got to contend with it all,” said Caruso, whose team can get the ball inside, score off the dribble or in transition, and hit the 3-point shot.
The Eagles rank 13th in scoring (89.1 ppg) and are fourth in scoring margin (plus-18.3).
Husson is an effective 3-point shooting team, averaging 9.9 per contest behind Cottonham (2.9 per game).
“This is an outstanding group willing to sacrifice for the greater cause,” said Caruso.
“I think our persona comes from our point guard, Corey Wood,” he explained. “He comes to work every day, has a tremendously positive attitude, cares about everybody and is incredibly unselfish.”
Caruso pointed out Husson has not had a first-team all-conference player the last two seasons. He believes that speaks to the Eagles’ willingness to share the basketball.
Husson’s rebounding is similarly spread out with Butler (5.9 rpg), Moore (5.6), Leighton (5.1), Fleming (3.8) and Spaulding (3.7) leading the way.
Although the Eagles’ chemistry has been instrumental in their strong start, Caruso knows there are significant challenges ahead in the NAC schedule.
The University of Maine-Farmington, Castleton State and Colby-Sawyer are among the obstacles to another conference championship.
“We remind our guys every day, it’s a great start, but we’re now getting to the point in the season where every game is magnified because of the value of conference play,” Caruso said. “We’ve got to get better every day, regardless of our record.”
Husson returns to action Saturday at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, then visits UMF on Tuesday.