Bangor senior Henry Westrich practices in Red Barry Gym.

The Bangor High School boys basketball team had a decidedly different look when preseason practices began in late November.

The state’s reigning Mr. Basketball, Matthew Fleming, now plays on the prep team at Army West Point.

Fellow 2018-19 starters Damien Vance, Noah Missbrenner and Isaac Cummings also are among nine graduated seniors who have moved on after helping first-year head coach Brad Libby and the Rams capture the Class AA state championship last March.

But all is not lost.

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

The returning Rams, buoyed by two key transfers and several promising youngsters, are savoring the challenge of pursuing their own championship.

“We got a lot of leadership on last year’s team from those seniors who stepped up,” said Bangor senior forward Henry Westrich, the team’s lone returning starter. “We had nine seniors, and now we’ll have around four, so it will be a change in depth and a change in character, and the older guys we have will have to step up and fill that leadership gap.”

While the roster will look different, the hopeful outlook gleaned by players throughout the program from seeing what is possible remains, as evidenced by a large influx of freshmen and sophomores into the program.

“Our main goal, as it was last year, is to step on the floor every night whether it’s a game, practice or film [session], and to get better every single day,” Libby said. “If we put 100 percent effort in, 100 percent heart in, care about what we’re doing and care about each other, then we’re going be where we want to be at the end of the year, and we’re going to be a really tough team.”

The transition process involving Libby’s new cast begins with the constant.

Westrich, a 6-4 forward, will be asked to expand his presence from a spot-up shooter and defender to a more diversified offensive threat and a significant team leader.

“Henry’s the type of kid you always want to have around,” Libby said. “Fundamentally, I’m not sure if I’ve seen a more sound guy, and he’s always in the gym working on the small things.

“His game needs to be more dynamic this year, but he’s worked really hard on it.”

Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik

Westrich was the Rams’ tallest starter when the offseason began, but now he’s the shortest member of a small college-sized frontcourt with the transfer additions of 6-8 senior Sam Martin of Milford and Orono High School and 6-5 junior Andrew Szwez of Penobscot and George Stevens Academy of Blue Hill.

Szwez already sports a state championship pedigree as a reserve on GSA’s 2018 Class C title team, and he looms as a budding source of offense for Bangor.

“The biggest step will be physicality, just being more physical down in the paint and not getting as many calls as I might get in Class C,” Szwez said. “I think I’m ready for it, and I’ve been working a lot this offseason to be prepared for it.”

Martin is expected to provide rim protection, interior defense and rebounding strength for the Rams.

“Obviously we have some great scorers in Henry and Szwez,” Martin said, “but I feel like I can be a great role player, come in, rebound and get a bucket when I need to.”

Libby has seen the transfers make a smooth transition to Bangor’s basketball philosophy.

“We’re excited they’re here,” he said. “They bring a couple more scorers to our table, and obviously Sam brings some size that we were lacking along with Andrew.”

Other top returnees include senior guards Parker Noyes and Quinn Richards along with sophomores Max Clark and Joey Morrison.

“With us being a state championship team last year, that meant those bench players were competing against the top team in Class AA [in practice],” Westrich said. “I think it clicked during the offseason that we did just that and now we can move up and compete in that same role.”

Libby anticipates a few hiccups as the acclimation process moves from practices to games, but he also sees considerable promise in his roster of quick learners.

“One thing that’s going to be really special about this group is that as we continue to build you’re really going to see progression throughout the season,” he said. “We’re not going to plateau early.

“By the end of the season we’re going to be a really tough team on both ends of the floor, and then once you get to tournament time anything can happen.”

Bangor and its Class AA North brethren will experience a slight change in their regular-season schedules.

Instead of the recent practice of playing some crossover games from the opposite Class AA region, teams in both the North and South now will play every other school in their own region twice during the regular season.

That leaves only four contests against either Class AA crossover opponents or geographic rivals from Class A. Bangor has two games each against Brewer and Hampden Academy.

“That’s who we compete with in the postseason, the AA North teams,” Libby said. “It means a lot for the regular season that we play them all twice, so those rankings at the end of the year mean that much more as you’re trying to get into that top four so you can play a quarterfinal at home.”

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...