The college basketball season is finally here, but in Maine it appears to have arrived with little fanfare — and it’s easy to understand why.

Every single state in the contiguous United States has sent a team to the NCAA tournament except Maine — yup, even the University of Wyoming Cowboys have been dancing — so it’s understandable that the thought of March Madness being less than four months away is met with a yawn in the Pine Tree State.

There are no guarantees that new coach Bob Walsh changes that — after all, 12 other men before him could not get the Black Bears to the tournament in its 75 years of existence — but if there were ever one who could get it done, it might be Walsh.

It’s highly likely it won’t be anytime soon, though.

For a fan base that has never seen a team make the NCAA Tournament the last thing they want to hear is to be patient, but that is what it is going to take to construct a program the likes of one Walsh says he is hoping to build.

So far the Black Bears are off to an 0-4 start and with the schedule they have — chock full of solid programs that may not necessarily be household names outside of Boston College and Seton Hall — wins will be hard to come by this winter in Orono.

Walsh is not the kind of guy to make excuses though. He was a part of both winning and losing teams as an assistant at Division I Providence College and head coach of Division III Rhode Island College — with more winning than losing coming at the latter.

While this may be his first head coaching gig at the DI level, he has still been around long enough to know the only way to fix a problem is by attacking it.

“It starts with establishing the culture,” Walsh said in phone interview late last week.” “It’s about evaluating the process, and it’s our approach with how we handle things every day and we’re taking it head on.

“We understand. All of our guys are wearing zero on the back of their practice jerseys. That’s the number of times we’ve been in the NCAA Tournament and we want to embrace it and attack it. It takes a mentality change that comes from the way you approach things every single day.”

The greatest progress in changing a team’s culture generally does not come on game nights and that is often times what becomes frustrating to fans.

They see the product on the court or read about recruits signing here or there, but the greatest victories in the early stages of a rebuilding program come on the practice court — out of the public eye.

The most important sell for Walsh, however, will be to his players. The type of athletes he looks for are often not very different from himself.

“I’ve learned as a head coach that I really value toughness,” Walsh said. “It just seemed like every year that I coached the kids that showed an uncommon level of toughness always found their way in the lineup and were the ones that helped us win. I think smart and tough will take you a long way in anything and certainly in our program.”

Toughness, hard work and determination are not qualities that come easy, as they often only show themselves when one is pushed to the limit.

As the Black Bears have found out, Walsh demands a lot of his players but it’s because that is the best way he has found to breed success. It’s also a method that assistant coach Antone Gray, a former player for Walsh at RIC, can attest to being effective.

“It’s important in a lot of ways but number one he’s just a brilliant, young coach as far as connecting with players, making them better (and) evaluating the way he sees the game,” Walsh said of Smith. “With him there is the bonus of he’s been in the locker room before and he understands how tough it is, what we’re asking guys to do but he’s also seen what it can lead to. He was also involved with some pretty special teams at RIC.

“…He’s been through probably 300 practices with me as a player — something like that — so that certainly helps. He knows what we’re trying to do and how to go about it and what the results can be like the back of his hand.”

Winning — both on the recruiting trail and ultimately on the court — is how coaches are judged, fair or not.

Neither come without developing a strong culture within your program though, and so far Walsh appears to be doing just that.

“The way we prepare with everything we do has to be with a championship in mind,” the first-year coach said.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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