Bentley vs. UMaine would be an intriguing matchup

Tyler McFarland of Bentley University goes in for a layup during a game last season. (Photo courtesy of SportsPix)

Tyler McFarland of Bentley University goes in for a layup during a game last season. (Photo courtesy of SportsPix)

Former Maine high school basketball stars Tyler McFarland of Camden Hills, Keegan Hyland of South Portland, Alex Furness of Cheverus, Kyle Bouchard of Houlton and Zack Gilpin of Hampden Academy are now all playing for Bentley University.

Bentley, an NCAA Division II team in Waltham, Mass., is 5-0 and is the only undefeated team in the Northeast 10 Conference. The Falcons are 7-3 overall and co-favorites to win the conference.

It would have been great for basketball in Maine if the University of Maine men’s team had scheduled Bentley and played at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

It would have been a big drawing card and great opportunity for the UMaine coaching staff, the state’s future Division I prospects and fans to assess how UMaine’s 13 new players brought in by second-year coach Bob Walsh would match up against some of the state’s former high school stars.

UMaine only has two players from the state on its current roster, scholarship player Garet Beal, a junior who starred at Jonesport-Beals, and walk-on Garvey Melmed, a sophomore, and former Old Town standout.

UMaine’s current recruiting seems to be limited to the Northeast — 10 of 13 recruits — in contrast to when assistant coach Doug Leichner recruited internationally under former head coach Ted Woodward. UMaine also seems to be relying on Lee Academy and Bridgton Academy as its recruiting sources in Maine as only one of the state’s top high school players, Andrew Fleming of Oxford Hills High in South Paris, has signed to play for the Black Bears.

The state’s players at Bentley and other standouts from the Pine Tree State had the potential to be strong contributors to the UMaine program. Who says the state doesn’t produce big players? They include 6-foot-9 Nick Mayo of Messalonskee, 6-10 Matt Cimino of Falmouth, 6-8 Matt McDevitt of Gorham, and 6-5 Chris Braley of Nokomis. Mayo is at Eastern Kentucky and Cimino is at George Washington while McDevitt and Braley are at Division II programs Franklin Pierce and St. Anselm, respectively.

UMaine needs to do a better job of keeping the state’s top high school players home and playing for the Black Bears. It seems that when UMaine does have legitimate Division I prospects, it has a history of not getting them.

UMaine could improve by always making sure its message to recruits is the school is doing what is in the best interest of the athlete rather than placing the school’s interest first. Doing so may bring a recruit like Mayo to Orono.

It’s true that some of the state’s best players aspire to other Division I programs and want to leave the state. However, UMaine should never close the door on them. If you they lose them to another school, wish them well and good luck with the message that if things don’t work out at their first choice, then consider returning home to play for the Black Bears.

The state’s top players have shown what they can do against other good college players during the last two annual Noonan Memorial Tournaments in Bangor where coach Carl Parker’s high school AAU alums featuring Mayo, Bouchard, Justin Martin, and Fleming, won their pool and finished second out of 20 teams made up of current and former in- and out-of-state Division I, II and III college players. Last June, a team with some of the Bentley players from Maine won the tournament.

If UMaine had all the current Mainers from out-of-state Division I and II schools this year, it would have been just as competitive, and possibly better, than the team last season as well as this season.

Bentley and UMaine had just one common opponent this season, Boston College, which beat Bentley 85-75 in an exhibition game on Nov. 5 after leading by just two at halftime. BC beat Maine on Sunday 91-60 after leading at the half 44-29. McFarland paced Bentley in its loss with 27 points, but no UMaine player could reach double figures.