Coach Walsh’s Black Bears Looking to Build a Championship Culture

WalshIn the nearly six months since Coach Bob Walsh was announced as the man tasked with cleaning up Ted Woodward’s mess, much has been made of the number “zero” within the Maine men’s basketball program.  As Coach Walsh told us on a recent edition of the Fill The Steins Podcast, zero not only represents the number of NCAA tournament appearances the Maine men have made, but it also represents the idea of starting from scratch.

The reality of starting from scratch was never more evident than in Maine’s first preseason exhibition game – a 78-73 loss to the University of Southern Maine, a Division III opponent.  And while the Black Bears were able to bounce back with a 40-point win over Husson in Coach Walsh’s unofficial debut at Bangor’s Cross Insurance Center, the takeaway from the preseason is that there is no way to overestimate the task at hand.

It’s hard to objectively look at the Maine men’s basketball program and think that Woodward left it in anything other than a shambles.  With his decade-long tenure coming to an end with a 23-loss campaign and back-to-back seasons in which multiple players voluntarily left the program, Black Bear Nation should feel fortunate to have someone like Bob Walsh patrolling the sidelines to put the pieces of the program together.

If you read Coach Walsh’s blog (and Fill The Steins highly recommends you do), you’ll find he spends a lot of bandwidth talking not just about basketball, but about leadership.  He quotes leaders and leadership materials from all walks of life, not just sports.  It’s clear Walsh considers himself a leader first and a basketball coach second.  That’s good news for supporters of the men’s basketball program.  Maine needs more than just a coach (make no mistake, Coach Walsh also has a full grasp of the game’s Xs and Os).  Maine needs someone to set and execute the direction of the program not only this season, but for the foreseeable future.  And that all goes back to the number zero.

“Zero is starting from scratch,” Coach Walsh recently told the university’s official YouTube page.  “It’s building the entire program, the entire culture, so we can get to a championship level.”

While a strong head coach is critical to establishing a culture and defining the identity of an athletics program, at the end of the day, it takes players to win championships.  With the aforementioned player defections under the previous administration, one of Coach Walsh’s first orders of business was filling out his 15-man roster.  From there, Walsh and his staff have been using preseason practice and Maine’s two exhibition games to evaluate those players and begin determining who the key contributors will be.

Perhaps the most impressive preseason performance came from Jonesport-Beals’ own sophomore G/F Garet Beal, who dropped in 26 points for Maine in their victory over Husson.  Last season, Beal averaged a respectable 4.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in just 14 minutes per game.  This year, Beal will unquestionably see more playing time and be expected to produce at a consistently high level.

Unfortunately, one of Maine’s sure-to-be big time contributors didn’t play in either preseason tilt.  Senior F Zarko Valjarevic missed the USM and Husson games with nagging off-season injuries.  Valjarevic is the leading returning scorer off last year’s squad (11.3 PPG) and is expected to be an even bigger part of Maine’s offense this season.  Coach Walsh remains optimistic that Valjarevic will be ready to go for Maine’s regular season opener on November 15th against two-time national runners-up Butler at legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.

With that regular season opener less than a week away, it’s hard to see Maine overachieving much beyond their predicted eighth place conference finish in the America East preseason coaches’ poll.  While Fill The Steins firmly believes Walsh is absolutely the right man to lead the UMaine men’s basketball program to respectability, Rome wasn’t built in day, and the Black Bears won’t be consistently competitive in one season.

Coach Walsh told us that he and his staff will define success this year based on the process, not the results.  The results, of course, do matter, however, and we see Maine struggling to a 9-20 record in Walsh’s first season at the helm.  We also stand by our prediction from May that Walsh will lead the Black Bears to the NCAA tournament at the end of his third season in Orono.

As the old saying goes, “you’ve got to start somewhere” when building a championship culture.  What better place to start than from zero?

How do you think the Maine men’s basketball team will fare this season with Bob Walsh in charge?  Leave your thoughts in the comments section below or join the conversation on Twitter using #FillTheSteins!


Photo courtesy: NCAA

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