ORONO — University of Maine men’s basketball coach Bob Walsh calls it the “free-agent culture.” Players transfer from school to school.

“It’s the structure of college athletics right now. The kids have power when they’re available,” Walsh said.

The kids come and go. Last year ESPN reported that more than 700 Division I men’s basketball players transferred, according to data compiled from 351 schools. That’s an average of two per school.

Maine was above average after last season. Five players transferred from Orono, including three of its top five scorers.

“It’s not unique,” Walsh said. “It’s part of college basketball now.”

Three of the players who left will have to sit out this season because they landed at Division I schools: Issac Vann (Virginia Commonwealth), Kevin Little (Colorado State) and Devine Eke (Rider). The other transfers were Walter King (New York Institute of Technology) and Lavar Harewood (Cloud County Community College in Kansas).

Walsh begins his third season at Maine on Friday night with the season opener at Virginia Tech. He’s coming off an 8-22 season and 3-27 before that. His predecessor, Ted Woodward, had one winning season in 10 years (117-178 record).

“Every school has its challenges,” Walsh said. “You have to recruit to that.”

Walsh is trying. Along with the five transfers, two other players graduated (the fifth and sixth top scorers). To plug the gap, Walsh brought in three players from junior colleges among his recruits.

“We didn’t bring in six freshmen to fill those spots. We have three junior college kids that have experience playing college basketball,” Walsh said. “We’re an older team. We’re more mature.”

Plus, Walsh has two players who sat out last year, one as a redshirt, the other because he transferred from Niagara (yes, Maine also gets transfers, and they have another player, Dusan Majstorovic, who will sit out this season after transferring from La Salle).

So what does Walsh have?

One of the two returning starters is 5-foot-11 junior guard Aaron Calixte of Stoughton, Massachusetts. He had a 10.8 scoring average and team-high 80 assists last year. The other is 6-7 sophomore Ilija Stojiljkovic of Serbia (3.6 points per game).

The two players who sat out last season could be keys. Wes Myers, a 6-2 junior guard from Brooklyn, New York, played two seasons at Niagara before transferring to Orono. Redshirt freshman Vincent Eze, 6-8, from Putnam, Connecticut, may be Maine’s only true center.

Among the junior college players, 6-6 junior guard Ilker Er from Turkey and 6-1 junior guard Austin Howard of Louisville, Kentucky, may contribute the most.

The top incoming freshman is 6-7 Andrew Fleming from Oxford Hills High, the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year. Fleming got a start in Maine’s second exhibition, and recorded 14 points and 14 rebounds.

That exhibition showed how far the Black Bears have to go. They lost to UMaine-Fort Kent, 80-75. UMFK is not an NCAA team but plays in the U.S. Collegiate Athletic Association.

Still, Walsh hopes for improvement from last year.

“We’re looking at it as taking the next step,” Walsh said. “We’ve had to adjust but it’s part of the deal. In the spring we were prepared all the time to be recruiting. We had to fill some holes and think we did that.

“We start from scratch every year with a new team. Our culture is established. Our mentality is a lot more mature … our goal is to win championships here. That’s what we’re fighting for every day. How much progress we’ve made toward that goal, we will see.”

The schedule has its challenges. Beside Virginia Tech, the Black Bears have road games at Boston University, Northeastern, Duke and Providence. Maine opens its home schedule Nov. 26 against Division III UMaine-Presque Isle. The Black Bears play at Cross Insurance Arena in Portland versus Quinnipiac on Dec. 18.