Wednesday afternoon it was announced by the Maine basketball program that the team will not be playing its America East opener against Vermont on January 7 at Alfond Arena in Orono. Instead the game is being moved just over two hours south (southwest to be more specific) to Portland, where the game will be played at the Expo Center.
According to the Bangor Daily News it was head coach Bob Walsh who originally came up with the idea, with the program looking to reach out to fans in the southern portion of the state.
That’s definitely a positive for a Maine program that’s looking to rebuild, and connecting with their fan base in other parts of the state can help in that regard. However from a conference schedule standpoint the Black Bears will now play their first three America East games away from Orono.
The Vermont game is sandwiched in between games at Albany (January 3), which won the conference tournament last season, and Binghamton (January 10). Maine’s first conference game in Orono will be played on January 13, when UMass-Lowell visits Alfond Arena.
With guard Xavier Pollard and wing Dmitry Akanda-Coronel having decided to transfer, new Maine head coach Bob Walsh will begin his tenure without two of the Black Bears’ top three scorers from a season ago. The question for Walsh and his staff was whether or not Maine would actually be without three of its top four scorers, with guard Shaun Lawton asking for and receiving a release from his scholarship.
Walsh gave Lawton, who averaged 8.1 points and 4.2 assists per game last season, the time and space he needed to make a decision while doing some work himself to determine whether or not Lawton would be a good fit for the program moving forward.
Thursday it was reported by Pete Warner of the Bangor Daily News that Lawton will indeed return to Orono for his junior season, giving Maine some valuable experience as they look to improve upon last season’s 6-23 campaign. In the story Walsh praised Lawton for keeping on task academically during the period in which he was deciding whether or not to return to the program.
“I talked to his teammates, I talked to the administration and the people in the athletic department, the academic people,” Walsh explained. “I literally talked to anybody who knew him and said, tell me your take on him.”
Walsh said he supported Lawton’s wish to stay but asked him to mull it over before deciding.
“I didn’t want anybody who wasn’t totally committed,” Walsh said. “He thought about it, and he called me and he said, ‘Coach, I want to be a part of the culture that you’re going to build there.’ We’re happy that he’ll be with us.”
Also expected back is forward Zarko Valjarevic, who averaged 11.3 points per game in 2013-14. Maine announced the signing of two recruits last week, with guards Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little signing National Letters of Intent to join the program.
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Nearly three weeks after announcing the decision to part ways with Ted Woodward, Maine may be close to hiring a new head coach according to multiple reports.
Bob Walsh, who for the last nine seasons has been the head coach at Rhode Island College, is reportedly the choice to lead the America East program. However according to Pete Warner of the Bangor Daily News, Maine AD Karlton Creech has denied that any decision has been made with regard to the opening.
Walsh, if chosen, would be a good choice for a program that hasn’t enjoyed a great deal of success in recent years. Walsh has won more than 76 percent of his games at Rhode Island College, and if making the move to Orono he’d be taking over a program that finished above .500 just once during Woodward’s tenure (the Black Bears went 19-11 in 2009-10).
Maine’s leading returning scorer at this point in time would be rising senior guard Zarko Valjarevic, who averaged 11.3 points per game in 27 contests in 2013-14. Maine finished 6-23 last season, dropping its America East tournament opener for the ninth consecutive season.