Dick Meader laments that big men are getting harder and harder to find in Maine basketball these days. Late bloomers may be an even rarer commodity, which is why the longtime University of Maine at Farmington men’s basketball coach realizes what kind of gem he has in Nick Hilton.

Hilton, a senior forward for the Beavers, doesn’t fit the traditional definitions of a big man or a late bloomer. At 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, Hilton looks more like a slashing wing forward than a physical paint presence. He also had a fine career playing at Mt. Blue for Jim Bessey, now a UMF assistant coach. He was a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference all-star who helped lead the Cougars to the 2012 Eastern A championship game

But through hard work, Hilton has made himself one of the toughest big men to stop in the North Atlantic Conference. This despite matching up with bigger, stronger players on most nights.

Meader is pleased with the Wilton native’s progress since his freshman year and even more pleased with the effort he’s put into making that progress.

“He does a lot of work on his own,” Meader said. “Every day I came over, he would usually be in the gym.”

The Beavers usually run Hilton into the low post so he doesn’t have to battle for position with bigger defenders. He’s always had the length and leaping ability to get a shot off in the post. Now he has the footwork and moves to get a good shot off.

“He’s very effective down low,” Meader said. “He’s tough to guard once he gets the ball in the post area.”

That also includes what’s known as the mid-post area, about 10-12 feet from the hoop. Hilton worked to improve his mid-range jumper and ball-handling skills so he could take the ball to the hoop on bigger, slower defenders because they had to respect his outside shot.

“I feel like I’ve got a mismatch in most situations, either in size or quickness,” Hilton said.

“At the end of last year, I think, he was one of the better players in the league,” Meader added. “The game sort of came to him at the end of it. He was patient. It’s been fun to watch his development.”

Hilton deflected credit for the strong second half he enjoyed last season. He noted the Beavers had lost seven players from the year before to graduation and it took some time for the new group to come together. But he also acknowledged that something clicked for him as the team’s chemistry improved.

“The game kind of slowed down,” he said. “I was more relaxed and letting the game come to me.”

He didn’t have much of a chance to slow down or stop. He led the Beavers in minutes (33.8), as well as points (15.6) and rebounds (7.8) per game.

Hilton’s role on the team has expanded exponentially each year from his freshman to junior years. As a senior, he will have to take his game to yet another level.

“This year will be a challenge for him,” Meader said. “He’s got 600 points in his career, so he needs 400 to get to 1,000. And we’re going to need him to score 400. He certainly is one who’s going to have to have good nights for us every night.”

Hilton welcomes having more of the scoring load placed on his shoulders but notes the Beavers graduated two strong scorers in Uriah Forest-Bulley and Pet Sumner, who were second and third on the team in scoring, respectively, while combining for over 23 points per game.

“We’ve got to kind of make that up this year,” he said.

UMF finished 9-16 (8-10 in conference) and were pick to finish eighth in the NAC preseason poll despite returning seven players, a nugget the normally reserved Hilton went out of his way to note.

“It’s just extra motivation,” Hilton said. “We finished last year 5-1 and we’re looking to build on that.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33


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