AUBURN — Athletic 6-foot-5 basketball players who can shoot are a rare commodity in Maine. Having two such gems playing together on the same team is a luxury that few high school coaches in the state will ever know.

Edward Little coach Mike Adams is the envy of coaches in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference because he is enjoying such riches this season. That envy has occasionally mutated into jealousy or even invective when the subject of how he came to attain one of those gems comes up.

Even the coaches who mumble under their breath about it wouldn’t mind trading places with Adams. But the fact is they can’t, and so they instead have to figure out a way to stop junior forward Lew Jensen and senior forward Andrew Middleton.

But it hasn’t been a slam dunk for the 13-year EL coach either.

During the offseason, Adams had visions of Jensen on one side of the floor, Middleton, a transfer from Leavitt, on the other and Ian Mileikis, an explosive point guard, at the top of the key choosing from two enviable options.

Then Mileikis broke his leg at the end of football season, meaning Jensen and Middleton would have to help new starting point man Luke Sterling pick up some of the playmaking slack.

Getting Jensen into more of a playmaking mode without sacrificing his scoring was the lesser of the challenges. As a freshman, Jensen was a swingman who provided instant offense off the bench with his long-range shooting. He diversified his game some as a sophomore, but his role essentially remained unchanged.

Much of the Red Eddies’ inside scoring offense left when Quin Leary and Sean Ford graduated, so Adams made sure Jensen knew the importance of developing some muscles and skills to take his game down low in his junior year.

“Coach and I talked since the end of last year about making sure I got stronger in the post,” Jensen said. “Getting the ball in the post opens up everyone else on offense. And early in the year, there were a lot of open looks near the basket.”

Those open looks have decreased as updated scouting reports warn defenders of Jensen’s prowess in the paint. But Jensen, an outstanding soccer goalie and baseball player, has become virtually immovable in the low block.

“The last five games we’ve put him in the post and I’ve told him ‘I can’t take you out of there because nobody can stop you inside.'” It just opens everybody else for us,” Adams said.

Middleton can be tough to stop inside, too. But with his deadly elbow jumper and rare athletic ability, he and Jensen may be at their most dangerous working a high-low game.

“Whenever I drive, I know that I can find him open somewhere on the wing,” Middleton said. “When I get him the ball, he can shoot it or find opportunities for other people.”

Jensen likes to help Middleton get as many of those opportunities as possible.

“He’s so athletic. He can get anywhere that he wants to get,” Jensen said. “And that mid-range jumper of his is unstoppable.”

“He has a level of athleticism that we haven’t seen here, and we’ve had some pretty good athletes,” Adams said.

Middleton has had to rely on more than just his athleticism to adjust to a new system and new league. A summer spent playing on a nationally-recognized AAU team with Zach Gilpin of Hampden and Bangor’s Xavier Lewis assured him that he was ready to step up to Class A basketball.

Yet Middleton almost didn’t get a chance to play for the Eddies this season. Like all transfer students, he had to have a waiver signed by Leavitt and Edward Little principals and approved by the Maine Principals’ Association. His initial application for athletic eligibility was denied by the MPA’s eligibility committee, then granted upon appeal to its interscholastic management committee.

“Andrew is a really reserved kid and he’s a bit of an introvert. I think it hurt him because the last thing he ever wanted was to create all of this drama,” Adams said. “He had said when the first ruling came through that even if he couldn’t play basketball, he wanted to stay at EL. He didn’t ask for any of that, and it’s too bad that he was made an example of when there are so many other situations like that.”

Middleton, who attended middle school with several of the Eddies and played summer basketball with and against them in recent years, said the school’s more diverse student population makes him more comfortable than he was at the the Turner school.

“I like being here a lot,” Middleton said. “I”m mixing in with the kids here very well and enjoying my time here.”

Adams, who has been outspoken on the issue of transfers in the past, said Middleton’s situation has changed his perspective on the often controversial issue.

“It taught me as a coach and as a teacher and a father that there’s always more than meets the eye with all of those situations,” he said.

There is more to Jensen and Middleton than meets the eye, even though they are the same size and are putting up similar numbers (Jensen is averaging 16.5 points and eight rebounds per game, Middleton 15 points and seven rebounds per game).

“They’re different players,” Adams said. “Lew looks for the contact a little bit more. I think that’s because he’s played in Eastern A for three years and he’s seen it. He’s a little more aggressive. Andrew is a little more athletic. But they both can shoot the ball.”

Having both Jensen and Middleton should give the Eddies a shot against undefeated Hampden Academy when they meet next Monday at ELHS, and in the Eastern A tournament next month. They currently reside in second place in the region’s Heal Point standings, atop a legion of teams hoping to trip-up the defending state champions.

“The ultimate goal is to get back to that Eastern Maine championship,” Jensen said. “I haven’t been there yet, so I want to get there. But we’ve got to make it through the next month-and-a-half first.”

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