ORONO — Only one regular player from last year’s University of Maine women’s basketball team returns this season.

Yet you will not hear the word “rebuilding” from the lips of Coach Richard Barron.

Barron’s words are optimistic, confident, even bold.

All this for a team full of new players to go along with all-conference guard Sigi Koizar. The Black Bears open their season Friday against Purdue at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“Sigi is already the best player in the league,” Barron said. “And I have five or six kids who can compete with her as the best player in the league.

“I like my chances.” Barron said. He paused, and then repeated, “I like my chances.

“There’s nobody I would trade (from) my top 7-8 players for any other player in the league.”

Bravado? Barron is not some naive evaluator of talent. He not only has rebuilt Maine’s program in his five years here, he previously served as an assistant at top programs North Carolina State and Baylor, after spending six years at Princeton as head coach.

With all that experience, Barron looks at this team, with 10 new players, and sees gold.

“These are the best players I’ve ever coached,” he said. “I’m talking about my time at Princeton, my time at Baylor, my time at N.C. State. These kids are really good.”

Before you mistake Barron’s talent assessment for predictions of a glorious record, he adds a caveat.

“Now they’re really young, so they’re going to make some mistakes,” Barron said. “Some of those mistakes are car crashes – 20-car pileups.

“But when they look good, they look really good.”

Maine lost eight seniors from a squad that went 26-9 and just missed out on the NCAA tournament, losing by a point to Albany in the America East Conference championship game. The Black Bears tied for first in the conference standings with Albany each of the past two years.

This year’s team could break through and reach the NCAAs, something Maine has not done since 2004.

“It’s exciting to have so much talent on our team,” Koizar said.

Freshman Laia Sole agrees that “my teammates are very good. But we are trying to communicate better and find the chemistry. This will come with time … sometimes I get confused with the plays.”

Sole, a 6-foot-2 forward from Spain, knows the offense well enough. Last week, she led the Black Bears with 15 points in the team’s only exhibition, against Division II Stonehill.

The Black Bears trailed 17-11 after one quarter before going on to win, 74-54.

“We settled down,” Barron said. “Just adjusting to the game with 10 new players was something big.

“We’re just at the very beginning of the process with these kids. Are we game ready? That’s something we talked about.”

Sole is one of three Spaniards on the team – part of the international invasion. The team has only five Americans, including two Mainers – sophomore Maddy McVicar (Calais), who sat out last year, and freshman Sierra Tapley (Bar Harbor). Both will see limited playing time.

Here is a look at Maine’s likely group of regulars:

Koizar, a 5-8 senior guard from Austria. A two-time All-America East first-team selection, Koizar averaged 17.7 points and set a team record for 3-pointers in a season (85).

 Tanesha Sutton, a 5-10 junior guard from Philadelphia. Sutton sat out last year after transferring from Duquesne. She drives and passes well.

 Naira Caceres, 6-foot freshman guard from Spain. A member of Spain’s national youth teams the past three years, Caceres can drive or post up, and she’s a strong rebounder.

 Sole, a 6-2 freshman forward from Spain. Sole has also played on several national youth teams. She moves well underneath and is a deft passer.

 Anita Kelava, a 6-3 freshman forward from Croatia. A member of several Croatian youth teams, Kelava is agile for her height and can hit from outside.

 Blanca Millan, a 5-11 freshman guard from Spain. Millan averaged 27 points and 13 rebounds for her club team. She is a solid defender and another 3-point threat.

 Fanny Wadling, a 6-1 freshman forward from Sweden. In the exhibition game, Wadling was the first post player off the bench and showed mobility and strong rebounding.

 Julie Brosseau, a 5-8 freshman guard from Canada. She played briefly in the exhibition and was 1 for 2 from the 3-point arc. She has a reputation as a lights-out shooter.

 Tihana Stojsavljevic, a 6-2 freshman forward from Croatia. She looks like a versatile role player for now – a good rebounder, defender and passer.

Of the three returning players besides Koizar, 5-10 senior forward Sheraton Jones from Anaheim Hills, California, may see the most time, adding experience in the post. Kirsten Johnson (a 6-2 junior forward from San Diego) and Isabel Hernandez Pepe (a 5-11 sophomore guard from Italy) will compete for playing time.

Barron is not easing his new players in. Maine is hosting an ambitious tip-off tournament this weekend, playing Purdue on Friday and either Villanova or Mississippi State on Saturday.

Later on, there are games at South Carolina, Clemson and Boston College.

“We have arguably one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country,” Barron said. “It’s not because we’re trying to schedule wins. We’re trying to develop these kids. We think they have the talent to play at a very, very high level of college basketball.

“If we can get through that gauntlet with some respectable outcomes, a sense of purpose and a sense of identity – and we haven’t killed our confidence – then we go into the conference schedule in a very favorable position.”