The Maine men’s basketball team gave an awful performance in front of a home crowd and dropped a 13th consecutive game against Maryland-Baltimore County on Jan. 22.

Things were about to get worse.

Coach Bob Walsh was so incensed with his team that he informed the players the next day they would no longer have access to their own locker room. And they were not allowed to wear any clothing representing the university – at practice or on campus.

Was it a slap in the face or a kick in the rear?

“We all took it personally,” said freshman guard Kevin Little. “We said we had to go out and earn our respect back.”

Zarko Valjarevic, the team’s lone senior, winced this week when the subject was brought up.


“He’s just making sure that we know the Maine that we wear, that we’re representing the school,” he said. “It’s not just about us. The program is bigger than we are.”

Practices looked like an open gym. Players wore whatever shorts and T-shirts they had in their dorm rooms.

And then they went to Hartford and won for only the second time all season. Last Saturday, they knocked off Binghamton at home. There were three losses in between, but somewhere along the line the Black Bears regained access to their locker room and earned the right to wear Maine practice uniforms again.

Walsh said his team’s two America East Conference wins weren’t a result of his unique motivational ploy, but rather a sign that the Black Bears are developing trust in each other and the coaches. Another factor: Little has averaged 20 points over his last five games, allowing Valjarevic and junior Shaun Lawton to play the forward positions.

But it’s also true that Maine (3-21, 2-9 America East) enters Saturday’s game at Stony Brook (16-10, 7-4) having learned a harsh lesson.

“I just want guys to understand there’s a standard we have to live up to,” Walsh said. “This is a meritocracy, and I was very, very disappointed in our approach to the UMBC game. I do think it opened some eyes long term, and I do think the message was sent.”


It wasn’t limited to the players, either. Walsh said he and his coaches also stopped wearing Maine gear for the approximately 10-day stretch.

“I’ve got my Maine jacket on right now,” Walsh said Thursday morning, a tone of pride evident in his voice.

Maine has five conference games remaining, and then will be on the road for the first round of the league tournament.

Valjarevic, acknowledging the disappointment of a 3-21 season, insists that there’s still time to salvage something positive, even a conference tournament title and the program’s first berth in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s not over yet. People say, ‘You guys had a bad season.’ Who knows?” Valjarevic said. “For me, winning three games in the tournament is going to be the best season ever. That record is not great. Obviously we want a better record. But we’re going to keep trying to the end.”

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