AUGUSTA — The son of a Maine Hall of Fame coach and a basketball lifer, T.J. Maines gets excited when the new season rolls around.

So do the Cony players, the Rams boys basketball coach said yesterday.

“Kids have been excited, texting me the last two weeks, saying ‘I can’t wait,’ ” Maines said. “It’s nice to see, we’ve got 41 kids trying out, which is great for us. I think we have a chance to be a pretty good team and kids are psyched to get going.”

The winter season began on the hardwood across the state Monday as girls and boys basketball teams’ tryouts and first practices got underway. The sounds of bouncing balls, squeaking sneakers and coaches’ orders filled the gyms as teams got to work figuring out their rosters for this season and instilling the skills and discipline that they hope will take them deep into the playoffs at winter’s end.

Not that playoffs were on anyone’s mind Monday. Monday was about the season’s beginning, not its ending.

“I was actually talking to coach (Pete) McLaughlin at Messalonskee last night, we were texting back and forth and we were comparing it to Christmas in terms of getting back in the gym with these kids,” Winthrop boys coach Todd MacArthur said. “Everybody in the state is 0-0. Whether it’s on paper or physical, everybody’s equal right now.”

Few teams came in with a buzz matching the Monmouth Academy girls team’s. The Mustangs won last year’s Class C state crown and return all but one player from that team. Most teams used Monday to figure out what they had. Monmouth used it to pick up where it left off.

“It’s essentially everybody coming back, and that makes it even more interesting and more fun,” coach Scott Wing said. “When we pick the teams tonight and we have our varsity team tomorrow, we’re hitting the floor running. It’s just more about getting the kids game-ready and just continuing to work on the stuff we’ve been working on for three years now.”

As for the enthusiasm that comes with defending a title, Wing said it’s there, even if it doesn’t make itself readily apparent.

“Personally, it kind of feels the same, but it’s also kind of bittersweet because it’s my last year,” senior guard Tia Day said. “I want to end it in a good way like we did last year.”

“There’s definitely internal excitement, but they’re not the type of kids that are rah-rah, jump up and down,” Wing said. “They’re pretty business-like. Now, are they excited to be back in the gym playing basketball? Absolutely. Most of them have indicated that to me.”

The Winthrop boys are coming off of a deep playoff run as well, reaching the Class C championship game before falling to George Stevens. The Ramblers, however, lost some starters from that team, making Monday the first step in both continuing the program’s recent run of success and establishing a brand-new identity.

“Last year’s situation is not their battle,” MacArthur said. “This is a different team, this is a team that they’ve got a chance to write their own story and put forth the effort they want to put forth.”

Hopes are high at Cony as well, where the Rams went to the Class A North semifinals last year and, with players like Jordan Roddy and Austin Parlin back, there’s ample reason to believe in another year of success.

“We just kind of see what we’re going to be. It’s exciting,” said Maines, whose team held its first of two tryouts Monday and will start varsity practices Wednesday. “We’ve seen most of these kids in the summertime, we had contact a lot in the summer. (And) guys put time in on their own.”

How teams took their first steps toward winning seasons varied, however. While some got going with the basics — some shooting around, some dribbling techniques — Winthrop cranked up the intensity right away, starting off with drills that included practicing full-court pressure, a key component of its coach’s dedication to stifling team defense.

“We go through our defensive sequence like we do in February. It’s no different,” MacArthur said. “We go through the same drills for the first 45 minutes of practice every day, regardless if it’s tryouts or playoffs, because that’s what we hang our hat on and we want our kids to understand that.”

At Monmouth, Wing’s players spent time working on their post moves and shooting touch from the block and the elbow. Sprints and suicides, however, were not on the agenda.

“I never do straight-out running, ever,” Wing said. “I never have as a coach. If we’re running, it’s with a basketball in their hand and they’re doing some sort of basketball thing.”

Not so at Cony, where in between practicing defensive positioning, charges, shooting and more, the Rams took in some cardio and calisthenics around the court.

“The conditioning for us is huge. That’s why you’ll see buckets, trash cans out here in a little while when they start having to run a little bit more,” Maines said. “We have plenty of time to get ourselves acclimated.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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