BANGOR – After winning the opening tip, the University of Maine’s first option was obvious: get the ball to Andrew Fleming.

Fleming, a 6-foot-7 senior forward from Norway, Maine, responded with a spin move on the baseline for a layup, the first of Fleming’s team-leading 22 points in the Black Bears’ 70-63 exhibition win over McGill University Sunday afternoon.

This season, Fleming will finish an individually-impressive career at Maine, and he will likely be the leading scorer most games.

As for the Black Bears winning games …

Fleming is in the midst of yet another rebuilding effort for Maine. The Black Bears’ record in his three previous years is a combined 18-78.

Mention those numbers to Fleming and he frowns, but he offers no complaint – except maybe a lapse in his own attitude last year. Otherwise, Fleming is all about talking up this season; and he talks like a leader.

”We have our eyes set on a spot we want to get to. If we want to get there, we’re going to have to stay a lot more focused than we have been in this preseason,” Fleming said.

“We definitely got better, but we did not get better every day. We have so much room to grow, we really can’t afford to take any steps back.”

Maine may be rebuilding again, but this is Fleming’s last season.

“He’s in a tough situation,” Maine Coach Richard Barron said. “He has high expectations for himself. He feels a certain amount of pressure as a senior and a Mainer on this team.

“And he has an expiring window of opportunity. He feels his clock ticking down, and he’s doing this with a young team. I know there has to be a lot of anxiety and pressure, and urgency.”

Fleming came to Maine as one of then-coach Bob Walsh’s prized recruits – the Gatorade Player of the Year in Maine – and he produced, with 988 points and 547 rebounds in three seasons. America East named him to the conference’s preseason First Team before this season.

But team success is elusive. Walsh was fired after Fleming’s sophomore year (Walsh was 24-100 in four seasons), replaced by Barron, who previously rebuilt the women’s program.

The Black Bears finished 5-27 last year. Only four players return from that team.

“It probably looks a lot like the beginning (with the women’s program),” Barron said.

Barron came to Maine in 2011 to coach the women’s program, which had struggled. After two years – 8-23 and 4-24 seasons – Barron built the Black Bears back into a winner

Building a men’s winner at Maine has always been challenging, especially since Coach John Giannini left in 2004. Ted Woodward and Walsh could not do it. Now Barron is trying.

“It’s going to be messy,” Barron said. “It’s not going to be easy. If our measurement is wins and losses right now, instead of (steady improvement), we’re in trouble. We’ll get discouraged.

“We got to get our guys to buy into little-bitty improvements, to grind it out. It’s tough. This is where a guy like Andrew finds himself. He so wants to be (winning) … There is no easy way to get there.”

As tough as the losing has been for Fleming, last year was especially hard after a brutal injury and some self-reflection. His season ended on Feb. 23 when he was flagrantly fouled while trying for a dunk. Fleming landed hard on the floor, breaking his left wrist and suffering a concussion.

Sidelined, Fleming realized how much he missed playing.

“I had settled, become complacent with losing. I was disappointed in myself,” Fleming said.

Fleming is now healed, and rejuvenated.

“I see a guy who cares an awful lot,” Barron said. “I see a guy who is the focal point of what we’re trying to do.

“Andrew wants to be here, and that’s an important element for us to have success – having kids who want to be here.”

Fleming speaks glowingly of the university – “it’s like a family here” – and he will graduate on time with a degree in finance. Fleming will also become a 1,000-point scorer for the Black Bears, shining in a program that is trying (again) to get off the ground.

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