ORONO — Of the top seven players last year, only Andrew Fleming returns to the University of Maine men’s basketball team.

But Fleming, a 6-foot-7 sophomore from Oxford Hills High, is optimistic about the team that begins its season Friday night at Boston College.

“I’m pretty excited,” he said. “We can compete.”

Joining Fleming will be a roster that includes five junior college transfers, another transfer who had to sit out last year, and regulars returning from injury.

Maine may be rebuilding again but as Coach Bob Walsh pointed out, it’s an “older” roster.

Trouble is, Walsh said the same thing last year when three junior college players came aboard with another transfer who sat out the year before, Wes Myers.

Myers led the team in scoring (16.9 points per game) but also broke a teammate’s jaw in a locker-room fight toward the end of the season. He was suspended from the team and school. Although eventually reinstated, Myers transferred to South Carolina, where he scored 11 points in 24 minutes Monday night in a loss to Virginia Tech.

Myers is one of the four players who transferred out; four others graduated. A year earlier, five transfers and two graduations depleted the roster.

“It’s certainly tougher (to build the program) if you lose personnel like we have,” Walsh said. “We need to find guys who really want to be here, who fit.”

It’s a perpetual uphill climb. Maine has had one winning season in the last 13, going 135-252 over that time.

Walsh came aboard in 2014 and was rebuilding immediately. His first team went 3-27, then 8-22 and 7-25 last year.

Now that Walsh is in the final year of a four-year contract, you could suggest that he’s coaching for his job.

“I don’t feel that way at all,” Walsh said. “I’m coaching for Aaron Calixte and for Andrew Fleming and for the other guys committed to being here … They’ve given us the approach that hopefully we can build on.”

Calixte, a 5-11 junior point guard, played five games last year, then broke his foot and missed the rest of the season.

Injuries were a problem last season. Two players (Troy Reid-Knight and Garet Beal, now graduated) were injured before the season and sat out. Then Calixte went down and finally, 6-6 guard Ilker Er (knee) was gone after 11 games.

This season, injuries already are having an impact. Vincent Eze, a 6-8 center who averaged six points and was the second-best rebounder (4.9), is out for the year after hip surgery. And junior college transfer Duncan Douglas, a 6-6 forward, is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot.

“We need to get him back,” Walsh said of Douglas. “He’s a key piece for us. He’s a physical kid who can guard bigger guys.”

For now the Black Bears feature few active forwards. They will rely on Fleming and 6-7 junior forward Ilija Stojiljkovic inside. Fleming averaged 10.7 points and was the top rebounder (6.5) last year. Stojiljkovic averaged 2.9 points and 3.3 boards.

The rest of Maine’s regulars are guards.

“We’re going to be undersized,” said Walsh, who will use a spread offense instead of trying to pack it inside.

Walsh started the same five players in exhibition wins over Division III Husson and St. Joseph’s. Fleming totaled 30 points and 16 rebounds.

“Andrew got a ton of great experience last year and by the end of the season, was the guy we were counting on to be our best player, as a freshman,” Walsh said. “He’s aware of our expectations (this year).”

The other starters include Calixte (16 points in the two exhibitions) and Er (19 points and 17 rebounds), along with two junior college transfers – 6-1 guard Trae Bryant (16 points) and 6-6 guard Isaiah White (19 points).

White scored 17 against Husson, hitting 3 of 5 shots from 3-point range. Although he did little against St. Joseph’s, White’s presence could take some scoring pressure off Fleming.

The top players off the bench should be Stojiljkovic, 6-5 junior guard Vernon Lowndes (a junior college All-American who averaged 19.1 points) and 6-5 guard Dusan Majstorovic, a transfer from LaSalle who sat out last year.

Maine finished tied for last in America East last year (3-13 record) and was predicted to finish last again in a preseason poll of league coaches.

Before the Black Bears reach their conference schedule, they have a boatload of difficult non-league road games, including Texas Tech, South Alabama, Georgetown, St. Joseph’s University and UMass.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: @KevinThomasPPH

Comments are not available on this story.