FARMINGTON — Every boys' basketball team in Maine celebrates the hope and excitement of the new season.
You can be certain that not one of those teams shares the same perspective of the word "new" as the Mt. Blue Cougars.
For starters, out of the sawdust of the giant construction site at the corner of Whittier and Seamon roads, nestled within a still-being-refurbished campus, stands a beautiful new gymnasium.
Brighter lights, a glistening floor and pared-down bleachers much closer to the action are a feast for the eyes.
"That gym is awesome. That's probably double the size of the gym I'm used to coaching at and playing at from my playing days," Mt. Blue coach Josh Bishop said.
Ah, yes, and there's Bishop.
The Madison and University of Maine at Farmington product accepted the job in September and shares little more than initials with his predecessor. Jim Bessey's first tenure at Mt. Blue began more than a decade before the 26-year-old Bishop was born.
"It's definitely more of a coach-to-player relationship. Coach Bessey is an awesome guy and no disrespect to him. I definitely developed a relationship with both coaches," junior Nate Backus said. "Coach Bessey and Coach Bishop are both really, really smart guys. They know the game really well."
New as the swinging doors and the probable mix of music on the coach's iPod are the names on Mt. Blue's roster.
Backus and classmate and fellow co-captain Kindle Bonsall are the only Cougars who saw any varsity time on the team that reached the 2012 Eastern Class A final.
In addition to the two juniors, Mt. Blue will start a pair of sophomores and a freshman.
"We're a young team, but we're learning. I think we'll be alright," Bonsall said. "We did lose a lot of key players. We had some guys who just lost interest and one who got hurt, and we lost nine seniors."
Three more seniors who were part of Mt. Blue's Class B championship football squad elected not to play basketball. Yet another, Cam Abbott, was lost to a knee injury.
It was Abbott who told Bishop in a late-summer conversation that the Cougars still were a team without a coach. Bessey retired in March.
"I had been living in Portland when I heard about it and I couldn't believe it," Bishop said. "Who wouldn't want to coach here, with the program and the system Coach Bessey built and the community support?"
Perhaps some shied away from the challenge of succeeding a legend.
The demonstrative and direct Bessey won just shy of 500 games in his illustrious career. His coaching tree includes state champions Jeff Hart, Gavin Kane, Craig Sickels and Ken Marks as well as Mike Adams, who has guided Edward Little to two regional titles since 2009.
"Bessey was a hell of a coach. He knew so much about the game, spent so much time with the game. He was here for 34 years. That's kind of remarkable," Bonsall said. "This new guy, he's young, but he knows the game pretty well. He's a good coach, smart coach, smart guy."
Bishop's first coaching venture began under similar last-minute circumstances.
He was 19 and a UMF sophomore when he got word that Carrabec needed a junior varsity girls' coach. He eventually ascended to the top job.
In high school, Bishop played for the fiery Tom Maines, an experience that taught him "what to do and what not to do," he noted with a smile.
"Growing up in Madison, I know how storied the success is here. Coach Bessey was here for a long time, so clearly he was doing a great job," Bishop said. "I was excited as can be just to have a chance to interview for the job. When they called to tell me I was the coach I was just ecstatic."
Bishop characterized the Cougars' preseason learning curve as trying to make up for their entire lost summer program in two weeks.
Winning efforts in exhibition play days at Oxford Hills and Winslow showed that the commitment is paying off.
"My expectations are probably higher than anybody else's in the area and in the conference," Bishop said. "I know a lot of people aren't expecting much from us. I expect us to get better and push for one of those final playoff spots, personally."
He will lean heavily upon Backus and Bonsall, both starters on the 12-0 football team.
Even as the calendar and season change to December and hoops, those athletes and their community are having a hard time moving on. The team was honored as part of Saturday's Chester Greenwood Day ceremonies.
"We only had one day of rest (before basketball practice). I really had no time to have it fully sink in," Bonsall said. "There are times now when I'm not doing anything when I'll be like, 'Wow, we're state champs.'"
This year's hoop team may not reach that standard, but the Cougars' fresh faces all appreciate their role in building the new regime that someday will lead to the elusive gold basketball.
"A lot of kids came into this thinking we might not be doing so well, but we're actually turning out really well," Backus said. "Once we get together and once we hit that first game, it will start going for us."