Andrew Fleming of the University of Maine (left) grabs a rebound against Connecticut's Akok Akok during December 2019 game. The senior from South Paris has been a picture of determination and toughness during his Black Bears career. Credit: Jessica Hill | AP

Andrew Fleming wasn’t certain how his game would translate to the Division I level at the University of Maine after a stellar basketball career at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris.

“I was kind of nervous honestly,” said the 6-foot-7 forward, who grew up in Norway and now lives in Bangor. “I wanted to play at this level. I had high expectations for myself, but coming into it I didn’t realize that I’d be able to do it right off.”

He didn’t have to worry. Opposing players and coaches have experienced first hand Fleming’s development into one of America East’s more formidable players over the past four years.

“That dude’s a beast,” said James Foye, a senior guard from Dartmouth College familiar with Fleming since their days on the New England AAU circuit. “I remember getting ready to play Maine a couple of years ago and watching some clips of him, and one was him going up and grabbing an offensive rebound at Duke over Duke’s big guys.

“The whole room was like, ‘Oh crap, that’s a man’s rebound right there.’ That was my introduction to him, and throughout the years the scouting report has always been tough kid, tough rebounder.

“He’s just a bear,” Foye added.

As Fleming’s final season at UMaine nears its conclusion, that late 2016 game against powerhouse Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium remains one of his many career highlights.

“It was crazy, the atmosphere there was ridiculous,” he said. “And [current Boston Celtics all-star] Jayson Tatum was injured to start his freshman year so that was his first game.

“His first statistic was a block. He blocked me.”

Fleming largely has been on the delivering end of such rejections since then, powering his way up the list of UMaine’s career leaders in blocked shots (eighth), points (ninth) and rebounds (11th).

With 1,396 points and 718 rebounds, he is one of only six Black Bears with at least 1,300 career points and 700 rebounds, joining Bob Warner, Jeff Cross, Rufus Harris, Francois Bouchard and UMaine assistant coach Kevin Reed.

Fleming is glad to have represented his home state on the state university’s basketball team.

“It’s really an honor,” said Fleming, who is one of two Mainers on this year’s roster, along with first-year guard Taylor Schildroth of Blue Hill. “I think that prior to me coming here there were probably a lot of kids from Maine who got passed over and I feel like there are a lot of kids in Maine who can play at this level and deserve a chance to play at this level.

“Getting the chance to play at the the Division I school in our state really means a lot to me, and I hope in the years to come more players from Maine can get recruited here.”

Fleming arrived at UMaine after being named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Oxford Hills in 2016, when he averaged 27.8 points, 14.4 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 3.7 steals for coach Scott Graffam.

He earned America East All-Rookie honors as a freshman after averaging 10.7 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing in 27 games with 21 starts.

He’s started 89 games in three years since then and played through a coaching change after his sophomore season to earn All-America East second-team honors last season.

Fleming, who was named to this year’s AE preseason all-conference team, has averaged 14.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as a senior despite nagging shoulder and back injuries.

“It’s really a grind,” said Fleming, who has played 31.6 minutes per game in his 116 collegiate contests. “The thing that’s crazy about it is that it ends up being practice most of the time where the injuries happen because everyone really brings everything they have in practice trying to improve our team and get us to where we want to be.”

Fleming had aspired to lead a resurgence of a UMaine program that has not had a winning season since 2011 nor won a conference tournament game since 2005.

While that hasn’t happened yet — the Black Bears have won just 27 games during his time on campus entering Tuesday night’s regular-season finale at Hartford — Fleming believes the program is improving and will continue to develop as the roster gains more experience.

“I think it is really close, I still think it’s going to happen,” Fleming said. “It probably won’t happen this year at this point, but I think that as the season’s gone on there’s been a lot of guys who have really stepped up and gotten better.”

Nine of UMaine’s 11 AE losses this winter have come by 10 points or less, and those nine defeats have been by an average of 6.6 points.

“Fleming’s been through the tough times,” Binghamton coach Tommy Dempsey said. “He’s given them a presence. He’s given them a toughness. He’s had a great career, and I think you’ve got to give him a lot of credit because when you go through tough times and you show up and fight every day, there’s something to be said for that.”

One person who will miss Fleming’s contributions as the Black Bears pursue continued growth is second-year UMaine head coach Richard Barron.

“Andrew’s a strong competitor and a guy who’s obviously committed to Maine and staying here and helping us build the program,” he said. “I’m sorry that it’s coming to an end. Andrew’s one of those guys I wish I hadn’t inherited, I wish I’d had him for four full years.”

Fleming, who will graduate this spring with a degree in finance, doesn’t rule out a return to basketball after his UMaine career ends, but not immediately.

“I don’t think I want to keep playing right now,” he said. “I don’t want to completely be done but I need a break, I think. There’s an awful lot of other stuff I love to do.”

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...