AUGUSTA — Many of the recent men’s basketball teams at the University of Maine at Augusta have featured out-of-state talent in starring roles. This year’s team has a decidedly local flavor, featuring a half dozen players from central Maine.
Among them are a couple of 1,000-point career scorers from Cony High School, Walker Cooper and Andrew Pullen. Also joining the team this season are recent Lawrence High School graduates Keith Chesley and Emmitt Faulkner. The Moose open their season tonight against Eastern Maine Community College in Bangor.
Pullen and Cooper are both expected to be in the starting lineup, according to coach Jim Ford, along with Chesley, returning captain Arron Cochran and former Medomak Valley player Garrett Alley. Pullen, a 6-foot-6 shooting forward, graduated from Cony in 2008 and spent two years at the University of Southern Maine, the second on the sidelines with a broken foot.
“He’s excited about the opportunity to get back into basketball again,” Ford said. “Each week he’s been getting stronger.”
Like Pullen, Cooper is a 6-6 shooter, who last year went over 1,000 career points at Cony. Ford will play him at the off-guard position.
“That was a pleasant surprise over the summer,” Ford said. “It seemed like this might be the best fit for him at this point. He and Andrew have the opportunity to be two of the better players in the conference.”
Cochran, the team captain and a four-year starter, will start at point guard but he’ll be pushed by a talented bench that includes five guards. The 6-5 Alley will play center while Chesley, a rugged 6-1, will play a swing position. His father Greg topped a 1,000 career points playing at UMA.
“He goes to the basket beautifully,” Ford said. “He’s the perfect complement to having two shooters.”
Plagued by injuries and ineligibility last season, the Moose went 5-25 overall and 3-13 in the Yankee Small College Conference. Ford expects vast improvement this season but still has some concerns.
“It’s virtually a new team,” he said. “We’ll have some growing pains. “I’m not worried about our offense, I’m worried about how we’re going to mesh defensively.”
The Moose have some quick defenders coming off the bench, including Darrel Stephen from Lincoln, Neb., and Will Joseph and Joe Nguyen, both form Orlando, Fla.
“It’s like a full-court press immediately,” Ford said.
Faulkner, who played point guard at Lawrence last season, will also see playing time along with Elliot Sibley of Ipswich, Mass., while Eric Mitchell and Russell Wood are a pair of 6-3 rebounders.
The Moose play their home games at the Augusta Civic Center, but have seldom had a permanent practice facility. This year, they’ll practice at the Augusta Armory, alternating times with the women’s team.
“It really helps that our practices are at 4 and 6 (p.m.),” Ford said.
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638