ORONO – They gathered in the University of Maine Memorial Gymnasium on Wednesday for the annual basketball media day. Members of the men’s and women’s programs stood around “The Pit,” as reporters from three television stations, two radio stations and two newspapers approached.

This is October. Preseason. A time for hope.

The challenge for Maine is to keep that interest going through February.

Men’s coach Ted Woodward has to replace five of his top eight scorers. He thinks he has the personnel to do it.

“I would not call it a rebuilding year,” Woodward said. “We have some pieces we have to mesh together.”

First-year women’s coach Richard Barron has to begin building out of the rubble of a 24-94 record the last four years, under previous head coach Cindy Blodgett.

One step at a time.

“Now we’re into practice, but we can’t forget about recruiting, can’t forget about public relations, fund raising and all the other things,” Barron said.

“But the most important thing is getting better in practice. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

Among the Barron’s staff are two former Maine players from the heyday of conference titles and NCAA berths — assistant coach Amy Vachon (class of 2000) and Director of Basketball Operations Tracy Guerrette (class of ’03).

Maine returns a handful of regulars from last year’s 4-25 team, including 6-foot senior Samantha Wheeler, who led last year’s team in points (12.8 average) and rebounds (7.6).

Three Mainers dot the roster: junior guard Rachel Burns — trying to comeback from her fourth knee surgery (but the first one on her left knee) — of Gorham, and two freshman guards, Rebecca Knight of Alfred and McAuley High, and Courtney Anderson of Greene and Leavitt High.

In the America East preseason poll, the coaches picked the Maine women to finish last in the nine-team conference.

The America East men’s coaches picked Maine to finish sixth.

Woodward, entering his eighth season, has enjoyed some success the past two years (19-11 and 15-15), following five losing seasons.

This year, Maine will feature guards Gerald McLemore (13.7 average last year) and Raheem Singleton (8.6 average, 110 assists).

But Maine has to replace veteran post players Troy Barnies (14.1 points, 7.6 rebounds a game) and Sean McNally (3.9 rebounds a game).

Other post players were used in the rotation last year, and Woodward said, “for some of those guys, now it’s their time.”

Only two Mainers are on the team — junior guard Jon McAllian of Bangor, and freshman guard Stefano Mancini of Falmouth. Mancini spent last year at prep school at New Hampton in New Hampshire.

NOTE: The women’s first game is Nov. 11 at at Central Connecticut State, while the men’s schedule begins Nov. 14 with a home game against UMaine-Machias The Black Bears will play six mens’ games and four womens’ games in The Pit, instead of Alfond Arena. Eventually all the games will be played in The Pit, when planned $14-million renovation is completed. Athletic Director Steve Abbott said $13.75-million has been raised or pledged and he hopes construction to begin in 2013.

Staff writer Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

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