University of Maine freshman Wol Maiwen, an Edward Little High School graduate, was going to redshirt this year, but when the NCAA changed eligibility rules due to COVID-19, he got a chance to take the court for the Black Bears this season. Submitted photo

As a freshman, Wol Maiwen’s primary role at the University of Maine can best be described as being a sponge —absorbing in as much knowledge about Black Bears coach Richard Barron’s system, where he fits in it and how he can ultimately thrive not only as a player but a leader in Division I college basketball.

It’s an ongoing process, and the 6-foot-4, 185-pound Maiwen, who led Edward Little to a state championship in 2018, acknowledges he still has a lot more questions than answers right now. But he’s already had one key question answered.

“The reason I came to Maine is I want to see Maine at the top. I want to be a part of that team that turns everything around here at Maine,” he said. “And every day I’m getting more and more confident that the group of guys that we have here and the coaching staff is definitely going to make that change.”

The 2019 Edward Little High School graduate learned that and a whole lot more during the fall semester in Orono, and he believes the NCAA’s decision in October to extend one year of eligibility for all student-athletes due to COVID-19 will help accelerate his learning curve.

The learning curve is more daunting because after a three-year career as a dominating paint presence at center for Edward Little, he’s in his second year playing guard after switching to the backcourt for his one year at Williston-Northampton prep school in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

Not only is he still learning a new position, he’s learning a different way of playing it at Maine.

“My first time really playing as a guard was last year,” Maiwen said. “But a lot of the stuff we did at Williston last year is different, the fundamental guard ideals I had last year. This year, I’ve had to be a different kind of guard.”

Edward Little’s Wol Maiwen throws down a dunk during the 2019 Class AA North semifinals at Cross Insurance Arena. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

Williston’s offense encouraged its guards to attack the defense with dribble drives and to try to beat defenders one-on-one. Maine wants its guards to diagnose the defense, set up an open teammate or help get them open, and knock down open shots from the 3-point arc.

Maiwen, who did most of his damage with the Red Eddies from 15 feet and closer, still has work to do but is pleased with the progress he’s made on the perimeter the past two years.

“I’ve really had to step up and focus more on making shots. I take a lot more shots now in practice and on my own,” he said.

“I’m really starting to understand how Coach wants to use me on this team,” he said.

He enrolled at Maine in the fall thinking he would have to start the learning process as a redshirt freshman. Even after the NCAA’s rule changes, he’s had to gain that understanding at practice and through hours and hours spent watching film.

Maine finally opened its season at Harford on Dec. 19. Maiwen made his collegiate debut in the Black Bears’ 63-60 loss, logging four minutes and missing his only shot, a 3-point attempt. He played four minutes again the next day in Maine’s 65-50 loss at Hartford and missed both of his 3-point assists but also dished out a pair of assists.

Two days later, Maine lost 78-62 at Boston College and Maiwen grabbed four rebounds (three offensive) in three minutes while missing his lone shot, another 3-point attempt.

“Going down and playing against BC helped show me the game’s a lot faster,” Maiwen said. “It’s a lot different at the college level. Being attentive to the details is big.”

University of Maine freshman Wol Maiwen, back row second from left, thinks getting a chance to play in what was originally expected to be his redshirt year will help speed up his development. Submitted photo

Looking back, Maiwen said he felt lost on the floor during in his first three games. He wasn’t surprised he didn’t play in Maine’s two-game home series against the University of New Hampshire on Jan. 2-3.

“The coaches noticed that over the past week-and-a-half or two and they’ve really shown a lot of support and helped me catch up and understand the way this offense is run,” he said. “I’m starting to feel a lot more confident, so I think over the next couple of weeks I really expect to make more of an impact on the floor.”

Maiwen said the whole team got a lift from finally being able to play at Memorial Gym after a long absence, especially the 59-56 win over rival UNH. Maine is currently 1-4.

“Although it wasn’t with a packed Pit like we’d like to have, it’d been about 300 days since we’d played a home game, so to be able to split a series and win at Maine was definitely a blessing,” he said.

Another blessing for Maiwen is having a mentor for a coach, much like he had at Edward Little in Mike Adams.

“Coach Barron is a great coach both on the floor and off the floor, and a great guy off the court,” he said. “He really cares about his players, and you can really tell that he has a drive and he really wants to see us grow, not just as players but as men off the floor. That’s something that a lot of people take for granted. He’ll hold us accountable. And he really puts an emphasis on making sure we know off the floor we represent ourselves and Maine.”

This season has been an unprecedented adjustment for Maiwen and other freshmen due to the virus. Currently on holiday break, he misses being away from family and friends back home but also knows that, with so many colleges and high schools sidelined by the virus, he is fortunate to be able to continue playing the games he loves.

“Most of my days go kind of fast. Basketball is what I love to do, so being able to be in the gym a lot of the time and just play basketball makes these COVID days a little easier,” he said.

Getting to know his teammates probably makes it go faster, too. Maine’s roster is an impressive international mix of players from Maine, Canada, Sweden, Turkey, Serbia, Latvia and England.

“It’s definitely great being able to see different backgrounds and have different perspective on our team. We all love each other and have a great bond,” Maiwen said. “COVID and everything makes it hard for us to be around each other a lot, but a lot of us who are on-campus have a very strong bond and the players who are off-campus live with each other. I think the team chemistry is great.”

Maiwen is looking forward to applying what he learned as a big man and intimidating defensive presence with the Red Eddies to playing guard in college. His length, athleticism and quick reflexes made him a terror in the passing lanes in high school, and there’s no reason he can’t be the same at Maine. His background playing and being physical in the paint and on the boards could ultimately make him Barron’s defensive wild card as someone who can guard multiple positions.

But Maiwen isn’t just focusing on his development on the court. He wants to evolve into the kind of leader he’s been before, too.

“I was a leader on our (EL) team, and coming here and being a freshman and not really knowing much about what was going on to start off, it has changed a little bit,” he said. “But, personally, I think I have a lot of leadership qualities. I like being that guy that people can go to and look to and follow in their footsteps. So I think over the next couple of years I want to become a guy that can be looked at as a leader on that team.”

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