Recent Husson University men’s basketball teams have blended individual standouts and high-quality role players.
It’s a formula the Eagles have used to qualify for the NCAA Division III Tournament six times in the last nine years as North Atlantic Conference champions.
And as such leaders as Trevon Butler and Raheem Anderson have moved on from the program, new leaders have emerged and the championship beat has gone on.
Now as the Eagles begin their 2019-20 season at Pine Manor on Saturday, they’ll do so without graduated center Justin Martin, the school’s career leader in blocked shots and a dominant inside presence who helped coach Warren Caruso’s club earn three NCAA Division III Tournament berths during his four years on the Bangor campus, including last winter.
So who will emerge as the next leading light for Husson?
“We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things on this team,” said perhaps the likeliest candidate, 6-foot-4 junior Justin Thompson of East Millinocket, a second-team All-NAC choice last fall. “J-Mart is a very hard player to replace and we’re definitely going to miss him. We don’t have anyone just like him, so it will be by committee. Some nights we’ll have five or six guys in double figures, it’s not just one guy carrying the load.”
Thompson is one of several young veterans back from last winter’s 17-11 club.
“Justin really assumed a leadership role on the floor last year, he was a vocal leader both encouraging and also pushing at times,” said Caruso, who enters his 26th year as Husson’s head coach with 488 career victories. “That was a big development in last year’s group down the stretch, and we hope to carry that into this season.”
Thompson (11.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game last season), sophomore point guard Justice Kendall (9.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg. 3.9 apg) and sharpshooting sophomore guard D.J. Bussey (13.0 ppg) figure to be the on-court leaders, with 6-foot-5 Bruce St. Peter of Ellsworth — the team’s lone senior — and 6-foot-5 sophomore Brett Cunningham working closer to the basket.
Primary depth will come from three more returners: 6-5 junior Corey Kaiser, 6-4 sophomore Dylan Angel and 5-10 sophomore Isiah Hart.
Caruso and his staff focused much of their offseason recruiting effort on adding size and strength to the roster, and the results include 6-9 Jared Balser of Topsham, 6-7 Scott Lewis of South Portland and 6-7 Luke Martin of Ponte Vedra, Florida, three of the six freshmen on the squad.
“We’ve got six of our top eight back so we feel good about our starting point to be able to put a group out there who have played and won a championship and understand what that means,” Caruso said.
“Then we’ve been able to bring in a group of young guys who we think can fill in the deficiencies we’ve had, particularly in the size category. We want to compete at the highest level possible, and when you look at competing at that level you need that length and size.”
Husson faces a challenging nonconference schedule that includes games against instate rivals St. Joseph’s College, Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, as well as a two-game trip to Daytona Beach, Florida, just before Christmas.
And the NAC only gets tougher, particularly with UMaine-Farmington and Thomas College of Waterville not only returning veteran squads but adding scholarship-level transfers with former University of Maine point guard Terion Moss of Portland now at UMF and former Machias and Hermon High School standout Jacob Godfrey moving from Division II East Stroudsburg (Pennsylvania) to Thomas.
“I think everyone comes after us because we’ve won quite a few championships in the last few years,” Thompson said. “We don’t want to worry about what anyone else has, we worry about us every day and taking care of our business. I think we’ll put ourselves in a position to be successful as long as we do what we’re supposed to do.”