WATERVILLE — One of the biggest things Levi Barnes wanted out of the Thomas College men’s basketball team this season was stability. The head coach of the Terriers who would inherit the talented junior — and an all-North Atlantic Conference player as a sophomore — would be the fourth of Barnes’ college career.

Just a few games into the season, Barnes knows the Terriers got the right leader in new head coach Geoff Hensley.

“Everything’s been great. (Hensley’s) very positive. He’s always saying we’re a band of brothers. We have to stick together as a team. That’s something we didn’t really have last year,” Barnes said. “He was going to be tough on us. He was going to bring a lot of energy. We know he wants us to play as a team, to stick together as a group. That’s something we were focused on, right from the first day.”

A Skowhegan native, Barnes joined a Thomas team coached by T.J. Maines. When Maines left to become head coach at Cony High School, Darrell Alexander become the head coach at Thomas. Alexander was let go with just a few games left in the 2013-14 regular season after being ejected from a game in a loss at Lyndon State. Former Colby College coach Dick Whitmore, one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history, coached the Terriers for the remainder of the season.

Hensley was hired last spring and immediately went to work. First, the Terriers had to become a tighter team.

“The basketball team has a ton of potential. As far as expectations go, it’s hard walking into a new team and a new place with high expectations, but we always compete with the highest goals in mind. We want to compete for a conference championship,” Hensley said before Monday’s practice. With a brand new coaching staff, 10 freshmen on the team, we understand it’s going to be a process. “We’re trying to stay positive, stick together. Hopefully on February 28, the date of our conference championship, we’re competing for it.”

Twenty-nine players tried out for the 17 spots on the team (“We hoped we picked the best 17,” Hensley said). Now, the players are learning Hensley’s offense, which is unlike the system they played last season.

“It’s totally different. More structure, more screening. More movement. Last year, it was more dribble drive, isolation kind of things. A lot of pick and roll this year,” Barnes said.

Through five games, the Terriers were 1-4 heading into Tuesday night’s game against Colby, averaging nearly 61 points per game. At 24 points per game, Barnes leads the North Atlantic Conference in scoring. Hensley described Thomas’ offense as “up tempo and unselfish.”

“We play with a lot of energy,” Hensley said. “Pass up a good shot for a great shot. Make one extra, unselfish pass. Very exciting team basketball.”

An area the Terriers hope to see improvement throughout the season is rebounding. With the exception of a loss to Division I University of New Hampshire, each of Thomas’ early-season losses was by eight points or less. Thomas is being out rebounded by an average of 10 boards per game. A rebound here or there would have changed the outcome of a few games, Hensley said.

“We’re five rebounds away from being 4-1 instead of 1-4,” Hensley said. “Every game we’ve lost so far has come down to the last minute, and unfortunately the other teams got a couple key offensive rebounds, and we’ve got to clean that up.”

As the team learns the offense, Barnes said, improvement will come.

“The offense is stagnant at times, but we see the keys, the concepts, that he’s teaching. It’s all new,” Barnes said.

Hensley knew he had some talented players like Barnes and senior Eric Westbrooks. Sophomore point guard Ian King has shown improvement and averages 3.4 assists per game. Brandon Johnson, a 6-foot-6 freshman, has started all five games at center.

“(Johnson’s) been a great surprise. We’re lucky to have him on our team,” Hensley said. “(King) didn’t play a lot as a freshman, but this year he’s kind of taken the reigns as a point guard and just done a really good job leading our team.”

Hensley didn’t take long to earn his team’s trust. Now, the Terriers want to reward him the best way possible.

“Win. Win the NAC championship,” Barnes said. “That’s our No. 1 goal. Win as many games as possible.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.