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Sunday, April 20, 11 p.m.
Sports

UMaine men’s basketball prepares for upcoming season

The winter weather may make for cold toes and a frosty car, but it also means basketball season is upon us. The 2012-2013 lineup is gearing up to start what should be a promising season for the University of Maine Black Bears men’s basketball team.

The 2011-2012 campaign may have been a disappointment as far as wins and losses — the Black Bears finished 6-10 in America East and 12-17 overall — but it was far from a lost season. UMaine saw themselves win three straight conference games at one point, including a 80-69 victory over the University of New Hampshire, and beat Atlantic-10 foe Rhode Island early in the season.

The Black Bears also brought in some very exciting freshmen who contributed immediately while some other great players finished their UMaine careers. It will be hard for the Black Bears to say goodbye to Gerald McLemore, who finished third in the America East in scoring averaging 17.0 points per game, and first in the league in free throw percentage at 92.4 percent. McLemore would end his lustrous UMaine career as the all-time 3-point leader in Black Bear history.

“It’s part of college basketball. We have graduated nine guys in the past year but so has everyone else,” said head coach Ted Woodward.

The Black Bears also lost a pair of subsidizing guards — Raheem Singleton and Andrew Rogers — to graduation. Their contributions helped the Black Bears finish first in America East in assists with 14.1 per game, second in points scored with 68.6, and first in assist-to-turnover ratio. If the Black Bears want to take the next step in America East, they must rebound the basketball better as they finished sixth in the league in rebounding margin at -2.3 per game.

“We should be in the top of our league in rebounding just from our size and we got to work hard on developing our depth,” Woodward said.

Despite key losses to graduation, UMaine is expecting some big steps to be taken by returning players. UMaine returns rookie of the year selection sophomore Justin Edwards, all-defensive first teamer Mike Allison, and preseason first team All-Conference selection Alasdair Fraser.

Edwards was the most pleasant of surprises for the Black Bears, finishing sixth in the league in scoring at 13.9 per game, grabbing 5.6 rebounds from the guard position, and winning America East Freshman of the Week an astounding six times.

Fraser would finish the year scoring 12.9 points per game and grabbed 7.8 rebounds per game, good for fourth in the league. Fraser comes into this season with the highest of expectations earning a preseason first team selection. Allison had his season limited due to injuries, but is a force on defense, averaging 2.2 blocks per game — tops in the conference by a wide margin.

“Our guys came back in really good shape physically and mentally,” Woodward said. “We return an all-conference guy in Fraser, we return all defense guy in Allison, and we return an all rookie guy in Edwards. We got a good core of guys who will be in a little bit different roles.”

This season the Black Bears continued their international recruiting, bringing in 6-foot-5-inch guard Shawun Lawton from Harlem, N.Y., 6-foot-8-inch forward Stefan Micovic from Serbia, 6-foot-8-inch forward Till Gloger from Germany, and 6-foot-4-inch guard-forward Dimitry Akanda-Coronel from Boston, Mass.

“I like our team and I like the guys we brought in,” Woodward said.

The Black Bears will count on sophomore guards Xavier Pollard and Edwards to take a leadership role in the backcourt, setting up the offense and providing the scoring. Pollard will be making the biggest jump as he played limited minutes last year but should be the starting point guard this season. Fraser and Allison will be above-average forwards in the league, but injuries and foul trouble are two problem spots for the Black Bears as their front court depth has little to no experience after the top two.

This season’s success will be contingent on Woodward’s ability to gel the new faces in the offense and the growth of last year’s returning players. If Allison, Fraser and Edwards can live up to expectations, and the Black Bears can get any type of production from Pollard and the incoming freshmen, they can compete for the top spot in America East. Yet, if opponents can take Edwards out of the game, and there are injuries to the front court, it could be another long season.

The Black Bears were voted fifth overall in the America East preseason poll while last year’s champion Vermont retained the top spot.