WATERVILLE — If Carlos Gonzalez didn’t see himself as a leader on the Thomas College men’s basketball team, he would be required to take another look. As the lone returning senior on a team with 12 freshman on the 20-man roster, Gonzalez is the Terriers’ leader, mentor and role model.

He embraces all of that.

“I feel like I have some responsibilities. I’ve been through it,” Gonzalez said after a recent practice. “We have other guys who have been through it as well. I just feel my job is to lead them as we all work together.”

A 6-foot-7, 240-pound center from Lewiston, Gonzalez will try to build off a season in which he was named second team all-North Atlantic Conference, and help the Terriers contend for the conference championship against a very talented Husson team. Thomas opens the season Friday when it hosts the University of Maine at Machias in the first game of the Charlie Ryan Classic. Tip off is at 5:30 p.m.

“Everything we do is going to go through Carlos,” Thomas head coach Geoff Hensley said. “He’s always doing the right things on and off the court. I wish I could have a team of Carloses every year at Thomas. It would make my job a lot easier.”

Last season, Gonzalez averaged 13 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game for a Thomas team that won 15 games and reached the NAC championship game last season. With the graduation of guard Tyheem Simon, who averaged more than 20 points per game, Hensley is looking for Gonzalez, as well as other returning players, to increase their offensive output.

“Tyheem was a great player for us. You can’t replace a player like that who averaged 23 points per game, but we’re asking all our returners to share that responsibility in replacing him,” Hensley said. “If all our returners can each average about three or four points more than they did last year, then all of a sudden we’ve made up those 23 points per game.”

That starts with Gonzalez, who arrived at Thomas as a sophomore after one season at Southern Maine Community College. Gonzalez was raw, more potential than polish, but his ability was obvious. Since joining the Terriers, Gonzalez has started all 54 games while adapting to new responsibilities.

“At SMCC, my job was kind of just to get the rebounds and help the guys out. Now I have a role, finishing through contact. Playing 35 minutes, which I didn’t do at my last school, and just cheering my guys on,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has evolved from a center who camps in the low posts to a more rounded player, Hensley said.

“When we got him from SMCC, you could see he had all the physical tools. He had the size, the athleticism. But as his game’s continued to improve, now he’s got a little dribble game. Now he’s got a mid-range jump shot. He can finish with his left and right hand. He’s just a great help defender,” Hensley said.

Hensley thinks Gonzalez will continue to develop as one of the top defensive players in the NAC. Last season, Gonzalez was third in the NAC in rebounds per game, and second in blocks.

“I’ve definitely been pushed hard since I got here,” Gonzalez said.

With Gonzalez back, along with guard Zack Mackinnon and forward Willie Grant, the Terriers return three of their top five scorers from last season. Thomas tied for third in the preseason NAC coaches poll, along with Castleton. Husson received all 10 first place votes, with Colby-Sawyer second.

“Everything goes through Husson,” Hensley said.

Along with Mackinnon, sophomore guard Matt Allen returns to the Terriers’ backcourt.

“My expectations for (Mackinnon) have gone up. Last year, he was more of just a shooter. This year he’s got some dribble game. His defense has definitely gotten better,” Hensley said. “Matt played in about half the games last year. This year he’s going to have a much larger role for us.”

The graduation of point guards Ian King and Jordan DeRosby means freshmen Bryce Harmon, Justin Butler, and Demetris Webster, will get a chance to run the Terriers’ offense. Gonzalez is eager to see his young teammates in action on the court, and he has goals in mind for his team.

“The first I want, is that we play hard. Intensity is number one for me, all the way. Second thing, I want to reach our potential. I think that we have a really high ceiling, especially with our young guys and the talent in our young guys,” Gonzalez said. “As long as we work hard, which I’ve seen so far, we’re going to be all right.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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