Bangor High’s Matt Fleming proved he was one of Maine’s best high school basketball players as a junior, averaging 23.2 points per game. By last summer, he had received a full scholarship offer from Army.

But the 6-foot-6 Fleming knew he could improve for his senior season. And if he did it the right way, so would Bangor.

“I think the most obvious way was my leadership. The year before, I was definitely more selfish,” Fleming said. “I wanted to be the player that could pass and set up teammates to score and let the game come to me.”

Fleming was still the Rams’ go-to guy, averaging more than 22 points a game, but how he scored changed.

“He was used to being on the wing creating, but with his size, athleticism and strength, he was such a mismatch inside and we were able to take advantage of that,” said first-year coach Brad Libby. “It allowed everyone else to play off of him.”

Bangor went 20-2, an 11-win improvement, and capped its season with the Class AA state title, beating Bonny Eagle, 58-48.

“Everyone sees how much ability he has, but they don’t see what he does behind the scenes with his leadership,” Libby said. “He knows when to be vocal, or when to be the fiery leader, or a lead-by-example type of guy.”

Fleming is the Varsity Maine Boys’ Basketball Player of the Year, edging senior Wol Maiwen of Edward Little. Fleming was also named Mr. Maine Basketball and the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year.

Fleming, who played two years at Oxford Hills before his family moved to Bangor, also had to adapt physically as a senior. Last April, he dislocated his right elbow when he braced for a fall after a dunk. He never regained full extension in his right (shooting) arm. He plans to undergo surgery this week to clean out “some stuff that’s gunked up.”

Fleming said the injury affected his rebounding, ball-handling and dunk rate – “I lost three inches of vertical because I couldn’t straighten my arm,” he said. But his shot remained on target.

“He was still shooting 40 percent” from 3-point range, Libby said.

Before playing for Army, Fleming will enroll at West Point Prep Academy for one year. The U.S. Military Academy has a strict four-year program, leading to a five-year commitment of military service.

“A lot of the athletic teams will send recruits to the prep school first for a redshirt year,” Fleming said. “I don’t have any military background in my family. That will introduce me to it and I’ll learn the basics.”

Fleming considered going to the University of Maine, where his older brother, Andrew, was a second-team All-America East selection this season as a junior.

“If he was a couple years younger, I would have without a doubt gone there. I just couldn’t pass up West Point for one year with my brother,” Matt Fleming said. “I think at this point, I’d like to make the military a career. It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do with your life.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: SteveCCraig

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