ORONO, Maine — The members of the University of Maine men’s basketball team are all wearing the same number this season — at least on their practice jerseys.
The Black Bears sport the No. 0 on their backs, signifying both a new start and new motivation under first-year head coach Bob Walsh.
“We talked about at the first meeting here that we were going to start from scratch,” Walsh said on Thursday. “We were staring at zero and we weren’t going to evaluate guys based on what we heard about them or what happened in the past. Everybody was starting with a clean slate.”
On Thursday, UMaine was assigned another number — 8 — in the America East men’s basketball preseason coaches poll. The Black Bears received 17 points in the voting.
Stony Brook (six first-place votes) topped the poll with 60 points, Hartford was second with 55 (two first-place votes) and 2014 league champion Albany was third with 51 points and one first-place vote.
Vermont (48 points) was fourth, followed by Binghamton (34), New Hampshire (26), Maryland Baltimore County (23), Maine and UMass Lowell (10).
The winner of the America East championship earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. UMaine’s “0” also serves as a motivational reminder of its own futility.
“That’s the number times that we’ve been in the NCAA tournament as a program,” Walsh said. “That’s not something that we want to hide from, that’s a challenge that we’re looking to attack.”
UMaine will provide fans with their first look at the 2014-2015 Black Bears on Saturday morning during the inaugural “Skip Chappelle Scrimmage.”
Walsh, who was welcomed by Chappelle upon being hired last spring, decided to honor the former UMaine basketball standout and head coach for all of his contributions to the program.
“He’s the best player, the best coach (at UMaine) and the impact he’s had on this program might even be greater since he stopped doing those two things,” said Walsh, who pointed out Chappelle’s efforts behind the scenes in helping raise the money for renovations to the Memorial Gym building and New Balance Field House, including new locker rooms.
“I thought it was a way to recognize him and maybe to brand our preseason scrimmage so that 10 years from now people come for Homecoming and say, ‘are you going over to the Chappelle?’” Walsh explained.
Walsh plans to split up the squad and put it through a full 40-minutes of game action during Saturday’s scrimmage, which is scheduled for 10 a.m. in “The Pit.” UMaine has an exhibition game on Nov. 1 at the University of Southern Maine.