All three 2019 Mr. Basketball finalists in Maine — Matthew Fleming of Bangor, Wol Maiwen of Edward Little of Auburn and Ben Onek of Deering of Portland — have graduated from those Class AA North programs.
That may leave a void of individual talent at the upper reaches of the division with the new season set to start Friday night. But two of the three schools that lost one of those elite players return nearly everyone else.
As a result, Edward Little and Deering are the top-ranked teams in the 2019-2020 Class AA North preseason coaches poll.
Edward Little, which fell to Bangor in the regional championship game last winter, was picked first in the poll with 53 points, just ahead of runner-up Deering (51).
Those two favorites were followed by a tight middle pack that included third-place Windham (33 points), defending state champion Bangor (29), Cheverus of Portland (29) and Portland (27), with Oxford Hills of South Paris (19) and Lewiston (11) rounding out the eight-team region.
“The region is still ripe in talent,” Deering coach Todd Wing said. “Talent paired with so many outstanding coaches equates to hard-fought games night in and night out.”
Edward Little, coached by Mike Adams, has a deep senior class back from last season’s 18-3 finish led by center Max Creaser and guards Austin Brown and Cam Yorke, as well as promising sophomore center John Shea.
“You can’t replace a player like Wol,” Adams said. “But the bulk of our team was juniors and they had a great summer. We have a nice mix of different styles and strengths and hopefully can use that to our advantage throughout the season.”
Deering (12-7) returns a similarly veteran lineup, with four starters back led by All-Class AA North senior guard Darryl Germain. He and classmate Max Morrione will team with senior point guard Askar Houssein, a transfer from Class C Waynflete of Portland, to give the Rams a formidable backcourt combination to complement 6-5 forward Loki Anda and center Mike Randall both seniors.
Windham lost just two seniors from last winter’s 7-11 team, but while coach Chad Pulkkinen must replace graduated 6-6 rim protector Dierhow Bol, senior guards Eric Weisser and Ivan Kaffel and junior Kaleb Cidre are back.
Bangor has a new look but retains high hopes after graduating four starters from its 20-2 team including Fleming, Mr. Basketball and the Gatorade Player of the Year.
Senior forward Henry Westrich, a Class AA North second-team all-star, is part of a formidable front line that includes two transfers in 6-8 senior center Sam Martin and 6-5 junior forward Andrew Szwez.
Several younger players also return, including senior guard Parker Noyes, to build on the Rams’ championship pedigree.
“After winning it last year there’s more hunger to repeat, to do it again and make history and all those kinds of things,” Bangor coach Brad Libby said. “But as I tell these guys, last year was last year and it’s been six or eight months since then and now it’s time to create our own destiny, our own history.
“If we do what we preach and get better every single day, by the end of the season we’re going to be right where we want to be and we’re going to be able to compete for a championship.”
Cheverus (9-10) has a talented leader in first-team All-Class AA North senior forward Nick Galli, but coach Ryan Soucie’s Stags will have to get by without Galli at least early in the season due to injury.
Portland, which upset Deering on a buzzer-beating shot by Stillman Mahan in last season’s quarterfinals, has the senior guard back from last year’s 11-9 team along with senior forward Richard Greenwood and reigning Class AA North coach of the year Joe Russo.
Oxford Hills (13-7) may be in rebuilding mode after suffering some major graduation losses after last season’s trip to the semifinals, while Lewiston (3-16) has a new head coach in 2010 alumnus Ronnie Turner to rebuild a program that has gone 11-61 over the last four years.