Jeff Spellman and the rest of the Bates College Bobcats have a new floor to play on this season inside the 92-year-old Alumni Gym. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Jeff Spellman has had to prove himself every season for the Bates men’s basketball team.

As a freshman, he had to prove he could play and contribute at the Division III and NESCAC level. As a sophomore, he had to prove that he could shoulder the load on offense, despite his youth.

Spellman proved he was up to the task in both those seasons, and yet he has to prove himself again entering his junior season.

His coach, for one, thinks he can and will.

“Every year, he’s gotten better. There’s no doubt about it,” Bates coach Jon Furbush said. “I think sometimes when you have a really good player on day one of their career, you wonder how much better can they really get. But I think Jeff’s improved a lot with his physical ability, but also the game to him has really slowed down from the neck up. And that’s showed in practice the first 10 days of practice. He’s really understood the game. We’ve put the ball in his hands a little bit more. He’s going to be running the point guard for us a little bit this year, so I think that’s forced him to see the game a little differently, which I think will be really good for us as the season progresses.”

The 6-foot-2 native of Boston played off-guard during his first two collegiate seasons, but in the offseason Furbush — a former Bobcat guard, himself — wanted to put the ball more in the hands of the “bucket-getter” who averaged a team-high 14.8 points per game last year.

“We’ve talked about it really my entire career here, but it’s really only happened this year. It’s something I’m looking forward to,” Spellman said. “He reached out to me over the summer and let me know that that’s kind of — you know, just like kind of a text out of nowhere to say, ‘Hey, I think I want you running point this year.’ And it’s something I’m excited about. You know, I used to play (point guard) a lot when I was younger, and growing up, and I think it’s going to be a good fit for me.”

Spellman showed flashes of point-guard ability his first two seasons at Bates. He had 1.6 assists per turnover as a freshman (when he also scored 9.6 points per game off the bench), and last year improved his assists-to-turnover ratio to 2-1, averaging 2.5 assists per game.

“I think that’s part of the reason we are doing it. Certainly, there may be more turnovers now because he has the ball more in his hands, but I also think the assists will also go up,” Furbush said. “You know, he makes the right play more than he doesn’t, which obviously as a point guard is an important skill. And I envision him having the ball in his hands a lot and making plays for us when it really matters.”

Furbush said he and Spellman had a handful of conversations at the end of last year about how Spellman felt like he let the team down by not making the big-moment plays that players on other teams were making. Spellman said he thought he had an “OK year.”

“I mean, I’m pretty hard on myself, so … it wasn’t the year that I was fully expecting, especially in terms of our team record,” Spellman said.

“I think no one puts more pressure on Jeff than Jeff,” Furbush said.

Yet Spellman said he didn’t feel pressured last year to be the top scorer, but just knew scoring was what the team needed him to do. Now, he’ll have more asked of him, which is why he put in the work off the court over the summer to get both stronger and in better condition.

“You know, I don’t want to just be an offensive player, and I know that to affect both sides of the floor I have to be in great shape,” Spellman said. “Something all great guards have, they’re in great shape and they can affect the game offensively and defensively, and that’s really what I was trying to focus on.”

Still, offense — namely scoring — is where Spellman has made his name so far in his Bobcats career. And it’s something he’s good at.

Furbush said scoring is in Spellman’s DNA.

“I mean, his elevation on his mid-range jump shot is great. He finishes around the rim really, really well. And I think the one thing that I was unsure about when he came in here was his 3-point shooting, but he’s certainly made plenty of those,” Furbush said. “Because he’s a three-way scorer I think you can’t not respect any part of his game, and he’s good enough to know when to take the right shot.”

Spellman said it’s important to be a well-rounded scorer, pointing out NBA point guards Trae Young and Steph Curry, who are great 3-point shooters who use their long-range ability to open lanes for themselves or teammates.

“I usually work out kids in the summer, and I try to preach that to them,” Spellman said. “You just don’t want to have any flaws in your game, especially offensively. Whatever you can do.”

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