BANGOR, Maine — Andrew Fleming had a productive first year with the University of Maine men’s basketball team.
The 6-foot-7-inch forward from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris has been working since then expanding his game in an effort to lead the Black Bears to better days in America East this winter.
“This offseason I really worked on my 3-point shot and just being able to attack the rim,” said Fleming late Saturday afternoon after helping UMaine open its exhibition schedule with an 84-63 victory over Division III Husson University of Bangor.
Fans at the Cross Insurance Center saw signs of that effort as the 2017 America East All-Rookie team selection — who averaged 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last winter — scored 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field while adding five rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of play.
The sophomore also made his only 3-point attempt, and was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
“Two things he’s gotten better at,” said UMaine coach Bob Walsh. “One is finishing with his right hand and driving to his right. Last year he was going to his left and when someone stopped him he was going left again.
“And second, expanding his game to the 3-point line. I watched high school games when he made five or six 3-pointers, and last year I think he made one (5 of 16 in 27 games). Being able to finish with both hands and being able to square up and make perimeter shots, if he can extend out to the 3-point line, big guys are going to have trouble guarding him.”
Fleming and his teammates hope to capitalize in a new offensive approach designed to create better spacing in the halfcourt.
“The change in offense in this year definitely helps,” he said, “not only for me to have more space but all the guys on our team. It puts us in better positions to create plays and ultimately get to the rim and score.”
The new offense is admittedly a work in progress, Walsh said. In the first half against Husson, for example, UMaine had 39 possessions but ran its new halfcourt set just six times.
“We were very, very impatient on offense,” Walsh said.
Fleming also figures to be one of the team’s rebounding leaders, a role that will take on even more importance given that his primary frontcourt partner from last season, 6-foot-6 Vincent Eze, will be sidelined this winter after undergoing hip surgery earlier this year.
“Definitely losing Vince has been tough for us,” said Fleming, “but I think we have three bigs coming back from last year and some new bigs coming in. (Miks Antoms, a 6-foot-8 freshman) is going to help us a lot, and the biggest thing is that besides Vince we’re really healthy this year so everyday in practice we can compete and push the other bigs to be better.”
Lineup begins to emerge
Of the eight newcomers on UMaine’s roster this season, two stood out in starting roles against Husson.
Trae Bryant, a 6-foot-1 guard from Wilmington, North Carolina, and Cape Fear Community College, had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists in a team-high 31 minutes while 6-foot-6 wing Isaiah White from Ellicot, Maryland, and Harford Community College scored a team-high 17 points.
Both originally started their college basketball careers at North Carolina-Asheville.
“It was pretty surreal,” said White of his UMaine debut. “I signed last year at this time so I’ve been looking forward to this for a year now. It’s unbelievable, I can’t really put it into words but it was great.”
Bryant is one of three players cast by Walsh as starters through the early stages of preseason along with Fleming and fourth-year guard Aaron Calixte, who was limited to five games last winter due to a foot injury.
White and senior forward Ilker Er were the other two starters against Husson, and both looked determined to retain those spots both in next Sunday’s exhibition game against Saint Joseph’s College of Standish (2 p.m. at Memorial Gymnasium on the Orono campus) and for the Nov. 10 season opener at Boston College.
Er, who played just 11 games last season due to a knee injury, scored 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting from the field but grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. White shot 7 of 13 from the field, 3-of-5 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“Isaiah’s got the ability to be a double-figure scorer,” said Walsh.
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