ORONO – As the leading shot-blocker in the America East men’s basketball conference last winter, University of Maine senior Mike Allison knows all about timing.
When to hold your ground. When to reach your peak. When to go after a shot.
This winter, Allison knows, is his last shot.
Maine is the only state with a Division I men’s basketball program never to have sent a team to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s always what we’re shooting for,” said Allison, who stands 6-foot-9. “My freshman year I thought we had it. My sophomore year I thought we had it. Last year I thought we had it. So this needs to be the year.”
The repetitive thump of bouncing balls mixed in with the chirps of sneakers Wednesday at The Pit, where the men’s and women’s teams posed for pictures and spoke to reporters during the annual media day before each team went through its regular practice session.
The men are coming off a 12-17 season that ended, for the second year in a row, with seven losses in the final eight games, once more deflating a once-promising campaign. Last March it was Vermont who eliminated the Black Bears in the America East quarterfinals on the way to securing the conference title and its automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“Last year we had a really good team, but we didn’t have a lot of team chemistry,” said sophomore guard Justin Edwards, who, like Allison, hails from Ontario. “So this year, we’re trying to make sure the team is all one, that we’re all working together.”
Edwards and Allison are two of three returning starters. The other is Alasdair Fraser, a 6-foot-7, 245-pound junior from Scotland who was fourth in the conference in rebounding and 12th in scoring.
Among the returning veterans are 6-foot-7 sophomore swingman Kilian Cato of Finland; 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Xavier Pollard of the Bronx, N.Y.; and 6-foot-6 senior guard Jon McAllian of Bangor.
The team also includes two Germans (Jon Mesghna and Till Gloger), two Serbs (Zarko Valjarevic, Stefan Micovic) and a native of the Bahamas (Leon Cooper Jr.).
“The fact that everyone’s international, I think we bond well,” said Fraser, known by Ali to his teammates (Ali Fraser has a Cosellian ring to it, don’t you think?).
“Everyone knows that other people are from somewhere else, so they’re just as much out of their comfort zone. I think it will help everyone come together as a team.”
Graduation claimed leading scorer Gerald McLemore, whose 17.0 points per game ranked third in the conference, as well as point guard Andrew Rogers.
Head coach Ted Woodward, entering his ninth season, thinks this club has the right mix of players to accomplish what previous squads have not.
“We’re bigger and we’re definitely more athletic,” he said. “Those are some things we struggled with at times last year, partially due to injuries, but that happens.”
Edwards was an all-rookie selection last year after finishing sixth in America East in scoring (13.9 ppg) and 12th in rebounding (5.6 pg). Over the summer he worked out with the Canadian National Team and learned a thing or two from NBA point guard Steve Nash.
“He’s the CEO of Canada basketball,” Edwards said. “He was there playing with us, coaching us, giving us advice and stuff like that.”
The season begins Nov. 10 at Dartmouth following exhibition games against two Canadian colleges, Laval and Acadia University.
Conference play starts in January against Boston University, which won’t be eligible for postseason action after announcing its intention to join the Patriot League next winter.
“We just have a great group of guys this year,” Edwards said. “I think we should dominate our conference, actually. I’m just excited to get this season started because I know what we can do.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: