The UMaine men’s basketball 2016-2017 season ended in Burlington, Vt. at the hands of the Catamounts in an 86-41 blowout. The men’s program had one of its toughest seasons in recent memory, due to preseason transfers, four season-ending injuries and youth which all factored into a disappointing 7-25 record.
Even with the challenges the program faced towards the end of the season, the team was able to find bright patches, including beating UMass Lowell at home on a Wes Myers game-winning jumper, an impressive finale in a game where he scored 31 points. On Feb. 25, they also fought out a 72-71 victory at Binghamton University, in the last regular season game of the season.
Coach Bob Walsh finished his third season in what many viewed to be his toughest season yet. “Challenging,” Walsh said. “It was a challenging season, because we suffered devastating personal losses with the 4 season-ending injuries.”
For some coaches the four season-ending injuries would be enough to throw in the towel, but many Maine fans can rest easy knowing that’s Walsh’s mentality. “Challenging is fun, and it made us better as a program, despite not getting the results we wanted,” Walsh said.
Coach Walsh has accepted the challenge and is determined to bring a winning culture back to the Maine basketball program. For his strategy to work, players must buy into the system and with such a tough season, it is up to Coach Walsh to keep the team motivated enough to make the sacrifice. “The only way to motivate is to be honest with them and develop trust,” Walsh said. “Once the players trust you, they will start to buy into what you are doing every day. You show them you have their best interests in mind and you can help make them better and therefore you can motivate them.”
Moving forward in the offseason, the Black Bears basketball team still has one hope, “Our expectations are to continue to get better and to have a chance to win the league,“ Coach Walsh said.
With teams like Vermont, Albany and Stony Brook, it proves to be a tough challenge. But it’s one that Coach Walsh believes can be accomplished. “Our ultimate goal is to win the America East,” he stated. It’s not a tin hat ideology from Coach Walsh, either. Looking at the young core, this team has it’s clearly built for the future. This strong group of underclassmen is led by a tenacious second-year point guard in Ryan Bernstein, who was introduced to first-year standouts this season in forward Andrew Fleming and center Vincent Eze this season. Fleming and Eze showed promise in their first seasons with the Black Bears. Fleming finished second on the team in Field Goals Made (112) and Eze finished fourth (69). The two of them are poised to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Black Bears front court.
Other players looking to propel the Black Bears to a brighter future include third-year forward Austin Howard. Howard finished the season leading the team in 3-point field goals made, with 38. Along with Howard, third-year guard Wes Myers finished a close second with 34 3-pointers made. It’s players like these who clearly help give this program life and it’s players like this that will help bring back a winning culture to UMaine basketball.