WATERBORO — An hour before practice last week, members of the Massabesic boys’ basketball team were trying to remain still for the annual team picture.

First-year coach Chris Binette did his best to position the players in just the right spots before he jumped in and the photographer clicked away.

The Mustangs wanted to look their best. After all, this is the picture that will appear in the Class AA South tournament program should the team qualify for the postseason. That hasn’t happened since the 2002-03 season.

Massabesic (4-0) is off to its best start in years. A week ago, the Mustangs beat visiting Gorham in their first big test of the season, 74-62. The atmosphere was charged in the packed gym, something that hasn’t happened in a long time.

There will be other games with big crowds, but right now the school is enjoying its newfound status as a team to watch.

“People are pumped,” said senior guard Dan Amabile, who has been on the varsity for four seasons. “The crowd gives us a lot of energy.

“We want to show that we’re not the same Massabesic team of the past. That’s what’s fueling us. It’s a lot different than previous seasons.”

The Mustangs suffered through 1-17 seasons four times in the last five years, including last winter. The last time the Mustangs won more than six games was in 2002-03, when they reached the Western Class A quarterfinals and finished 10-10.

Josh Daigle, another senior returning starter, said the team’s fast start is getting a lot of reaction around school.

“Last week in study hall, the teacher told me he had never seen a Massabesic team play like this in 15 years,” he said.

When Binette was hired last May, he didn’t need the usual get-acquainted session with his players. Binette, who starred for the Mustangs in the early 1990s, runs and coaches the Maine Elite Basketball Club, an AAU team.

“All of the kids have played for me at one time or another in AAU,” he said. “I didn’t have to do introductions.”

What he needed to do was change the attitude. Binette said the players were eager for that.

“There’s no reason this program can’t be successful,” he said. “I know how to build a program. My offense and defense works against Division I players. It will certainly work in Maine. We spend a lot of time together talking game planning and roles.”

Apparently, Binette just needed a chance. He finally got the job he wanted in his fourth time as an applicant.

“I was pretty frustrated not getting the job before,” he said. “I wasn’t going to apply this time, but I said, “What the heck.'”

With four starters back and the addition of two talented transfers, Binette knew that he had the makings of a strong team.

“We knew that this could be the year,” said Daigle. “We have more of a transition offense this season, but when we need to, we can run a set offense.”

The 6-foot-1 Daigle is one of the team’s defensive specialists. During a recent practice, he was often above the rim. Amabile is a shooting guard and one of the team’s top scorers. Dawson Renaud is another returning starter and the point guard. The other returning starter is Weston Bergeron, a senior forward.

Two key additions are Tyus Sprague-Ripley, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, and Ryan Gullikson, a 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward. Sprague-Ripley was a starter for Oxford Hills last season, and Gullikson started for Fryeburg Academy. He was Fryeburg’s starting quarterback this fall.

“They both moved into the school district. Their families own homes,” said Binette. “(The players) bring a winning attitude.”

Sprague-Ripley scored 29 points against Gorham and shot 11 for 11 from the floor. Amabile added 23 points, including 15 in the second half.

Sprague-Ripley said the biggest adjustment is being asked to be the go-to player on offense.

“I have to become more of a scorer,” he said. “I was the second scorer on my team last year.”

Binette said Gullikson is a hard worker who is willing to dive on the floor for loose balls. He’s a player who can score and also be a defensive stopper.

“I love the energy here,” said Gullikson. “I feed off it.”

Another newcomer is Bryson Murry, a home-schooled student who is 6-foot-6.

Massabesic, which hosts Class A Kennebunk (3-1) on Tuesday night, faces strong tests in the coming weeks. On Dec. 30, the Mustangs play at Cheverus (5-0). In mid-January, Massabesic has back-to-back road games at Thornton Academy (5-0) and Deering (5-0). A week later, the Mustangs host South Portland (3-2) and then travel to Portland (4-0).

“They’ll know a lot more about themselves by the third week of January,” said Brendan Scully, Massabesic’s athletic director.

“I’ve been here five years and the Gorham game was the biggest crowd we’ve had here in my time. I expect we’ll have more of them. People are pretty excited.”

Marshwood Coach Mike Zamarchi was impressed by Massabesic after his team lost 74-57 to the Mustangs in the second game of the season.

“They’re definitely one of the better teams this season,” he said. “They play together all the time and the two players they picked up were two of the best players on the teams they left. They’re both capable of scoring 20 points in any game.

“Massabesic plays up-tempo and is very athletic. They should definitely make the tournament with a chance to make something happen in it.”