WINDHAM — Once you notice it, the boys’ basketball banner inside the Windham High gym keeps drawing your eye.

Unfortunately it’s for the wrong reason.

It’s completely blank in the spaces marked for regional and state championships.

“There’s nothing up there. Nothing,” said senior guard Mike Gilman.

That banner could get some celebratory alterations after this season. Windham has championship-caliber talent, seniors with multi-year experience and offensive balance.

“I really think this team is confident in their commitment and how they prepared for this year,” said third-year coach Chad Pulkkinen, a 2002 Windham graduate. “I think they have a big goal in mind. They want to go as far as they can and they believe they can go pretty far.”

“I don’t want to jinx us or anything,” said Nick Curtis, the point guard. “We just have to work hard and hopefully our goal will be accomplished.”

Class AA North is regarded as the toughest division in the state and two-time defending champion Portland, which returns its own star-studded lineup of veterans, is still the consensus favorite. But if the Bulldogs slip, Windham appears ready to ascend.

Gilman is a three-year starter who has proven he can drain 3-pointers at a prolific pace. He’s averaged over 17 points each of the past two seasons.

Curtis is another senior and three-year starter. A dervish driving to the hoop and pestering opponents, he’s led the SMAA in assists for two straight seasons while also scoring 17 points per game.

Dierhow Bol established himself as a rebounding force for Windham last season. The 6-foot-6 forward had his best games against his best competition and is a big reason why Windham should be a contender in Class AA North. Staff photo by Joel Page

Junior Dierhow Bol emerged last season as a 6-foot-6 rebounding force who had his best games against top teams: an 18-rebound, 12-point effort against his older brother Ruay and South Portland; a 19-rebound, 12-point, four-block game to help knock Edward Little from the unbeaten ranks; and 10 points with two key fourth-quarter baskets in a playoff win against No. 3 Deering.

“They have the three main ingredients covered. That automatically makes them a contender,” said Portland Coach Joe Russo.

“They’re definitely a threat. They have as good a chance as anybody,” said Cheverus Coach Ryan Soucie.

Last season Windham was a feel-good story. After going 7-11 and just missing the playoffs in Pulkkinen’s first season, the Eagles improved to 13-7 with an eight-game win streak and the aforementioned playoff upset.

Now the Eagles have nine players back, including defensive specialist and returning starter Hunter Coffin, senior forward Nazari Henderson and 6-5 senior Cory Hutchison who can be a complementary scorer from a variety of spots on the floor.

“They can’t fly under the radar anymore,” said Deering Coach Todd Wing. “They’re a senior-laden team and the expectation for them to be good will be right there from the get-go.”

The players understand that “nothing’s given to you,” as Gilman put it, especially in AA North where every team, with the possible exception of Lewiston, expects to win more than it loses.

“Every team is good,” Bol said. “In order to win, we’ve got to work hard. Every team is going to come out and fight every night and we’ve just got to fight, too.”

Mike Gilman looks at the banner for boys’ basketball at Windham High School and sees … nothing. No regional titles. No state titles. He hopes that changes this season. Staff photo by Joel Page

Last season, Windham had the fourth-best scoring offense among 17 SMAA teams, averaging 59.9 points a game. Defensively, they weren’t as strong, ranking 10th.

In contrast, Portland was first in offense and second in defense, while AA South champion South Portland ranked third in both categories.

Finally, Windham will need to prove it really has closed the gap against the perennial top teams. Beating Edward Little in the regular season and Deering in the playoffs “gave us a lot more confidence because no one was betting on us to (win) those,” Curtis said.

But the current Eagles have never beaten Cheverus. They open at Cheverus on Friday.

Then Portland comes to town on Tuesday.

Last season, two days after beating Edward Little, Windham was humbled by Portland, 96-48.

“That will be a big test. Portland is good. Really good. They’re the bar,” Pulkkinen said.

“We definitely have the pieces,” Gilman said. “We have skills in every position and we have the chemistry to do it, too.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

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Twitter: SteveCCraig