For the first time this decade, Class A East and KVAC boys’ basketball coaches don’t believe any team is an overwhelming favorite heading into the season.
What the league does wield, perhaps in a greater quantity than it has in a long time, is individual star power.
It’s spread just evenly enough, in particular throughout the top half of the league, that almost every game in the conference is a must-see affair.
“Several talented, scholarship-level athletes will grace the league,” Lewiston coach Tim Farrar said.
Farrar has his own Division I talent in the fold, albeit someone who is giving up the formal hardwood after this season. Isaiah Harris, a 6-foot-4 forward, returns to the Blue Devils for his senior campaign while preparing to attend Penn State on a track and field scholarship.
Amazingly, if you were putting together a preseason first team of KVAC all-stars, there’s a chance Harris might not be on it.
So where do we start?
“Messalonskee has one of the best players in the state in Nick Mayo,” Mt. Blue coach Kevin Main said.
In terms of next-level talent, the 6-foot-8 Mayo might have been the most sought-after player in Maine. Nine Division I programs offered Mayo a scholarship before he settled on Eastern Kentucky.
“Anytime you have a player sign a mid-major Division I letter and happen to be 6-8 with good athleticism and can shoot, you’ve got a chance to be very good,” EL coach Mike Adams said. “Messalonskee has some other solid players around Mayo who will make them capable of coming out a winner against anyone.”
Next on most observers’ lists is 6-5 junior forward Andrew Fleming, who essentially gave a senior-dominated Oxford Hills team a piggyback ride to the Class A East final.
And even though Hampden graduated seven seniors from the team that beat the Vikings and maintained a two-year stranglehold on the region, two of the primary ringleaders, point guard Nick Gilpin and forward Brendan McIntyre, are only juniors.
“Andrew Fleming is one of the top players in the state, and (6-3 junior forward) Tyus Ripley is an incredible athlete. Coach (Scott) Graffam is one of the best in the state. They will be very good,” said Adams, whose team hosts the Vikings in a scintillating season-opener Friday. “And don’t forget that Hampden group with Gilpin and McIntyre has been successful since middle school.”
EL will have its own one-two punch with 6-5 Lew Jensen and Ian Mileikis.
Now seniors, they were the Red Eddies’ first two players off the bench as freshman. Jensen’s perimeter play vaulted EL over Mayo and Messalonskee in the regional quarterfinals each of the past two years.
“That should be a season-long battle for the top spot in the East,” Farrar said of the first showdown between EL and Oxford Hills.
Adams also is leery of another explosive guard, Shyheim Ulrickson of Mt. Ararat, who hung 10 3-pointers and 43 points on the Red Eddies in a game last winter.
Lewiston, which opens the season at Bangor, has at least two other players who could attract collegiate attention.
Trever Irish is a 6-foot-10 center, while Quintarian Brown has been a dual star in football and basketball since his sophomore season.
“That is not a team I want to see again in the first round of the playoffs,” Adams said. “They’re full of athletes with a monster thrown in the middle. They could very well be a top team in Eastern A.”
Yet again, we haven’t even mentioned Harris, who is a threat no matter whose hands are holding the basketball.
“We had a summer game against Cape Elizabeth. I think it was about a week after he set the New England record in the 800 meters, so it might have been his first game in months,” Farrar said. “He had a block that you wouldn’t believe. Out of nowhere, flying through the air to swat it off the backboard.”
Don’t expect the KVAC’s marquee players to sneak up on anyone in that manner.
And with that said, don’t plan on sneaking in five minutes before the opening tap and getting a great seat, either.