Sean McNally had his share of doubters after he signed a letter of intent to play basketball for the University of Maine before his senior year at Gardiner Area High School.

Some thought, at 6-foot-7, McNally might be a little too small to play down low at the Division I level or not quick enough to play on the wing. After three successful seasons with the Black Bears, however, critics of his game are tough to find.

“I never had any doubts,” Maine Coach Ted Woodward said. “He was a hard worker and an athlete in multiple sports. I thought he had Division I tools. He’s proven he belongs at the Division I level.”

McNally is nursing an ankle injury and his status for Friday’s opener at Utah Valley State remains uncertain, although Woodward expects him to be ready any day. McNally and Troy Barnies of Edward Little High School in Auburn are co-captains and have developed into the leaders Woodward envisioned when he recruited them.

“We compete every single day and that starts with Troy and Sean,” Woodward said.

They are roommates and best friends, at least away from the court.

“Me and Sean are very competitive against each other,” said Barnies, who is 6-7, 210. “On the court we beat each other up.”

Barnies calls McNally “a presence in the post,” although he’s proven effective on the perimeter, too. Woodward uses him in a variety of roles and said McNally always finds his niche. Last season, he averaged 10.3 points and 7.4 rebounds a game.

“Last year, the game just completely slowed down for me,” McNally said. “Now I know what I can and can’t do, how to use my body, what’s a good shot or a bad shot.”

Using his 250-pound bulk has always been one of McNally’s greatest assets. Woodward calls him a solid defensive rebounder and an outstanding offensive rebounder, the latter the source of many of his points.

“He does a wonderful job pursuing the basketball,” he said. “He just understands the game. He’s a crafty guy.”

On offense, he’s able to move to the high post or wing and use his passing ability. Although he rarely shoots 3-pointers — he made 9 of 27 last season — he has a nice outside touch. He shot 41 percent from the floor overall and 71 percent from the line. He’s also closing in on 1,000 points for his career.

This summer, McNally spent more time than usual on campus, working youth basketball camps and training with the team’s strength and conditioning coach. He came into camp in the best shape of his life.

“I worked a lot on my agility and my footwork,” he said. “My conditioning’s significantly better than it was last year. It’s really paid off for me.”

Expectations are high for the team that returns four starters and just about all its reserves. Last season Maine went 19-11, 11-5 in America East play. The Black Bears were picked third in the conference preseason poll, but Woodward cautions there are senior-laden teams on the schedule and any one of seven could win the title.

The nonconference schedule is a tough one, beginning with Utah Valley and extending to games at Maryland and Notre Dame.

McNally is used to the competition, having played big minutes in games against Oklahoma and Syracuse.

“When we first started playing these schools a lot of us were in awe,” he said. “Now it’s just another game. We know we can come out of here with a win if we work hard.”