The Portland Expo floor is sanded and freshly polished. Green paint has replaced red. The sweatshirts say Maine Basketball instead of Red Claws.

Oh, and the big fella has left the building. Fan favorite Tacko Fall is now a two-way player with the Cleveland Cavaliers and their G League affiliate Cleveland Charge this season.

Portland’s professional basketball team opened training camp Tuesday afternoon as the Maine Celtics after 11 seasons as the Maine Red Claws.

“The court looks better, a lot better,” said guard Jaysean Paige, one of two returners among the 14 players who worked out Tuesday, along with Wayne Blackshear.

Paige took his game to Hungary and Puerto Rico (where he has family) since last playing in Portland. He understands that the 7-foot-5 Fall was largely responsible for the Expo’s sellout crowds two winters ago, before COVID-19 forced everything to a halt in March of 2020.

Whether basketball fans flock back to a Tacko-less Expo remains to be seen.

“If not, then hopefully we can play it into a full house,” Paige said. “It’s always fortunate to be able to play before a full house of fans.”

The Celtics opted out of a condensed G League last winter, changed the nickname to better align with the parent Boston Celtics and hired Jarell Christian as head coach to replace Darren Erman, now an assistant with the New York Knicks.

Christian spent the previous two seasons as an NBA assistant with the Washington Wizards after being head coach of the G League’s Capital City Go-Go. His Maine roster is top-heavy with NBA experience.

Aside from the pair of Celtics under two-way contracts with parent Boston – sharp-shooting forward Sam Hauser and versatile guard Brodric Thomas – there are five players who have spent considerable time in the NBA.

Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono logged 207 games over four seasons with the Chicago Bulls, including one campaign with current Maine teammate Luke Kornet, a 7-foot-2 center who played 133 games over the same stretch with the Knicks, Bulls and Celtics.

Forward Theo Pinson (who, like Arcidiacono at Villanova, has an NCAA championship on his resume, at North Carolina) played in 68 games over parts of three seasons with the Nets and Knicks. Forward Juwan Morgan started two playoff games for Utah in 2020 and saw action in 50 NBA games over two seasons.

Guard Chris Clemons is a former two-way player with Houston who played 33 games for the Rockets in 2019-20.

“This is my sixth year in the G League and I’ve never had a roster this veteran-heavy,” Christian said. “We’re excited to have those guys because they’ve been on NBA rosters, have been in NBA locker rooms and they’re obviously NBA talents. Now it’s just a matter of getting everybody on the same page.”

Maine has another former two-way player, Kenny Wooten Jr., who likely would have seen time with the Knicks if not for a thumb injury that required surgery.

Thomas, a two-way player with both Houston and Cleveland last season, is a veteran of 32 NBA games. He was in training camp with the Cavaliers until being cut last week, and the Celtics snapped him up.

“I think it’ll be huge just for the experience and the IQ of the game and the speed,” Thomas said of Maine’s veteran presence.

Before leaving Cleveland, he also asked Tacko about Maine.

“He said he liked it here,” Thomas said. “I’m happy and ready for the opportunity.”

By contrast, Hauser signed his two-way deal with the Celtics the same night as the NBA draft back in July. He played for the University of Virginia last winter after a redshirt season following three years at Marquette in his native Wisconsin.

Hauser also played for the Celtics in the Las Vegas Summer League and said he is eager to contribute in Maine and in Boston.

“Hopefully I get some opportunities with the Celtics throughout the year, but I know my time here is valuable in order to keep my game sharp,” he said. “Sometimes going down to Boston it’s hard to get reps in with a veteran team. Being here, it will be good to stay in the rhythm of the game.”

One of the more intriguing names on the roster is that of Eric Demers, a 6-foot-1 guard from Acushnet, Massachusetts, who led all NCAA divisions in scoring (32.4 points per game) his senior year at Division III Gordon College. Maine acquired him in a trade during the G League draft Saturday and he and his wife drove the hour north to Portland on Sunday.

“I’ve seen them play on TV but this is my first time meeting most of them,” he said of his new teammates. “It’s been great. Just a big learning experience coming in here, just trying to be a sponge and learn as much as I can so I can continue to progress.”

Christian must pare his roster down to 12 by next Wednesday. Maine opens its season Nov. 5 in Georgia against the College Park SkyHawks. The home opener is scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Expo against Delaware.


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