The clash of small public and private schools always makes the Class D West tournament one of the most intriguing and consistently entertaining offerings of Maine’s great two-week high school basketball showcase.

At no time was that amalgamation more exciting than at the turn of the 21st century, when Valley dominated Class D for six consecutive state and eight regional championships from 1998-2005. Year in and year out, the tiny Bingham school boasted one of the top teams in the state regardless of class and turned out some of the top Division I and II hoops talent in Maine with the likes of Brian Andre, Nick Pelotte and Chris Willer.

Also at the center of that remarkable run were twin brothers Luke and Jason Hartwell. Both are back this year in the Cavaliers’ royal blue and gray, although they will be limited to exhibiting those colors in neckties and sport coats rather than tank tops and shorts as members of Valley’s coaching staff. Luke is listed as the head coach, Jason as a volunteer assistant.

It would be unfair to expect a return to those glory days of yore, but the Buccaneers have been and should continue to be a force in the Western D tournament. They were regional runners-up to rival and eventual state champion Forest Hills last year, and while all-conference talents Carrington Miller and Josh West graduated (with Miller now plying his trade at Central Maine Community College), Valley figures to be right in the thick of things with another set of twins, seniors Devon and Jordan Gillespie, leading the way.

Forest Hills captured its first ever state championship with strong defense and the 1-2 combo of center Evan Worster, the school’s all-time leading scorer, and guard Derick Ouellette. Both have picked up their diplomas, but the Tigers have the rest of their nucleus back, including junior forward Ryan Petrin, to defend their crown.

Buckfield has aspirations of making it a trio of East-West Conference gold ball threats.

The Bucks have as much size as anyone in the conference and the necessary firepower with junior guard Jared Eastman and seniors Micah Madore, Keenan Stockdale and Jonah Williams. The hope is the young bench develops to allow them to continuously play the end-to-end style that is their strength.

“If the veterans are the best players night in and night out, it will allow the depth players to acclimate as the season, and the team, matures,” Bucks coach Chris Reed said.

North Haven, Greenville and Hyde could also factor into the chase.

New Rangeley coach Jeff Larochelle brings a background of sound fundamental basketball from his playing days at Winslow High School and Thomas College to a rebuilding Laker program. Aside from seniors Mike Haley and David Bachelder and junior Mason Cavalier, he will be putting mostly sophomores, freshmen and eighth graders on the floor.

Larochelle is preaching and practicing the necessary patience.

“Right now, we’re at a point where it’s a lot of instruction,” he said. “There’s nothing like fundamentals and you can’t do anything until you lock in those fundamentals.”

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