ORONO – It took a month and probably a bit longer before Gerald McLemore stopped waking up to the last basketball game he played. He couldn’t hit the delete button. He couldn’t erase the memory of Maine’s season-ending loss to Hartford in the America East tournament.

Not that he wanted to forget. McLemore is another who believes you can learn more about yourself from defeat than from victory.

It was tough, he said Wednesday, standing in his home whites in the middle of Memorial Gym.

He had turned the page as April slipped into May last spring. While others made plans to return to hometowns for the summer, McLemore stayed in Orono rather than fly to San Diego. He worked his body, his game and his mind.

“These will be the last 30 games of my life,” said the senior guard. “There is no next year.”

Through the first three months of the 2010-11 season, Maine men’s basketball deserved your cheers, especially after the Black Bears rallied from a 22-point deficit to beat Binghamton 77-74 on the road. Maine was 8-1 and on top of the conference standings. The overall record of 14-7 was further evidence of good things happening on the court.

Maine then lost seven of its last eight games.

The last-month collapse was bewildering. Until the Red Sox showed in September how to really fall apart.

Wednesday was Media Day, that ritual when everyone looks to a fresh start. Somehow it seems impolite to rake over a past season when many teammates have graduated or left the program.

Too bad Media Day isn’t after the first three or four games, giving everyone something more definite to assess.

Troy Barnies, last season’s scoring leader as a senior, didn’t mind looking back. “I want to know where we came from,” he said after a big win last winter, referring to a freshman season when the losses outnumbered the wins. “I think about that season in every practice.”

McLemore fits the same mold. The losses of February will be the wood splinter he couldn’t pull out completely. Just enough left to remind him it’s there. He’s a preseason All-America East selection. That’s not something he’ll talk about. Maybe in March, when he justifies the recognition.

He still stands 6-foot-3 but he looks bigger, muscles more defined.

“I was not physically strong at the end of the season. I was not mentally strong. We played well and then we didn’t. I think the other teams in the conference adjusted to us. The competition stepped up. We lost. We lost some close games and that kills you mentally.”

That’s easy to understand if you don’t have enough experience picking yourself up after being knocked down. At Binghamton, Maine seemed to know exactly how to come back and did. For whatever reasons, Maine got away from that mindset.

“Every year you’re always learning,” said Maine Coach Ted Woodward. This is his eighth season. He points out that Maine finished third in the regular-season standings in back-to-back seasons. Maine men hadn’t done that in 20 years.

That’s nice and notable, but Maine fans have waited forever for an America East tournament title and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. But Media Day promises are foolish, and Woodward and his players know it.

Ask Woodward what he learned from last year and he talked about a late-season defense that misplaced its focus. He quickly moved on to the emotional makeup of this year’s team.

“We have freshmen who want to make a difference. All our players play purposefully. They have great respect for the game. These guys love the game and that’s a huge thing.”

In the comings and goings of college sports, Woodward has lots of new faces from faraway places like Serbia, Israel and Finland. New players with no memories and that’s OK.

McLemore and fellow seniors Andrew Rogers and Raheem Singleton know where the blind alleys and dead ends are. They shouldn’t lose their way.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: [email protected]

Twitter: SteveSolloway


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