ORONO, Maine — The offseason saga “As the Roster Turns” with the University of Maine men’s basketball has taken some new turns.
Guard Wes Myers, the Black Bears’ leading scorer last year whose season was cut short due to his involvement in a Valentine’s Day locker room fracas, will not return to the team next season. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 center Vincent Eze will miss the entire 2017-2018 season after he undergoes surgery on both hips during the offseason, according to UMaine head coach Bob Walsh.
In addition, sophomore Jaquan McKennon, who saw duty as a backup point guard during his only season at UMaine, plans to transfer to another school in an effort to continue his basketball career after averaging 4.1 points in 12.1 minutes per game for the Black Bears.
Myers averaged 16.9 points in his first season at UMaine after his transfer from Niagara, but he missed the Black Bears’ final four games after the Feb. 14 incident in which he broke teammate Marko Pirovic’s jaw with a punch during an argument about locker-room music, according to police reports.
“He’s no longer with the team, that’s the status,” said Walsh. “Wes and I sat down and had very direct conversations when the season ended. He had obviously been suspended and we talked about specifically what he needed to do to come back and that he needed to earn the trust of his teammates, the trust of his coaching staff, the trust of everybody in the athletic department to give himself an opportunity to do that.
“As we started to move forward it became apparent that it wasn’t going to work and I made a decision.”
Myers remains at UMaine and may seek to continue playing basketball elsewhere as a graduate transfer next year if he can complete his undergraduate studies this summer.
Eze played in 32 games with 24 starts for UMaine as a redshirt freshman last winter. He averaged 6.0 points and 4.9 rebounds and shot 45 percent from the field while teaming with America East All-Rookie team freshman forward Andrew Fleming to give the Black Bears one of the more promising frontcourt duos in the conference.
But a condition traced back to his soccer-playing days as a youth in his native Nigeria led to the need for surgery on both hips, the first of which he underwent Tuesday in Boston.
Walsh said surgery on Eze’s other hip is scheduled for sometime this summer, followed by what doctors estimate to be an eight-month recovery period that will sideline him next winter.
“Vince was one of the best young post players in the league,” said Walsh. “He started for us this year and was developing, and we still think he can be a force in our league in the post, so to lose a kid like that for next year is significant.
“We do think we’ve addressed losing Vince somewhat in recruiting but other guys are going to have to stand up.”
Initial reports indicated McKennon left UMaine for a chance to go on tour with Chance the Rapper as an opening act after one of his songs, “What About Us,” attracted attention on social media.
McKennon, a mass communications major, said Wednesday he did complete his spring semester studies at UMaine in advance but ultimately opted against joining the Chance the Rapper tour.
“I sat down with my family and we decided not to do it,” said McKennon. “It was a great opportunity, but school was ending at the same time I had to get out there so it became pretty complicated.”
McKennon said that while music is important in his life he plans to continue his college basketball career, just not in Orono.
“I heard that I’m leaving for music but that’s not the case,” said McKennon from his home in The Bronx, New York. “I’m leaving for a better basketball opportunity. I don’t think UMaine was the right situation for me so now I’m just trying to move forward looking for the right situation to continue playing basketball and graduate as well.
“I’ve been involved in music all of my life, but I’m not giving up basketball.”
Those three personnel moves, combined with the transfer plans of graduating seniors Troy Reid-Knight and Marko Pirovic as well as junior guard Austin Howard and sophomore guard Ryan Bernstein and the graduations of swingman Garet Beal and guard C.J. Ward, mean the Black Bears will have a vastly different look next winter from the 2016-2017 squad that finished 7-25 overall, 3-13 in America East.
Walsh on Tuesday announced the signings of three new players, 6-8 center Miks Antoms of Latvia and Lee Academy, 6-6 forward Duncan Douglas of Santa Monica (California) College and 5-10 Brazilian guard Celio Araujo, who spent the last two seasons at Sheridan (Wyoming) College.
Douglas will be coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that forced him to sit out last season.
That trio joins previous signee Isaiah White, a 6-5 guard from Harford Community College in Maryland and 6-5 wing Dusan Majstorovic, a transfer from LaSalle who sat out last year with UMaine, as newcomers to the Black Bears’ program as Walsh continues to rebuild his roster entering his fourth season as head coach.
“We’re really happy with the guys we’ve brought in,” said Walsh.
Returning players include Fleming, third-year forward Ilija Stojiljkovic and two starters who had their junior seasons ended prematurely by injury in point guard Aaron Calixte (foot) and swingman Ilker Er (knee).
“We should have an older team and that’s part of the plan. You don’t want to start three freshmen every year and we’ve started at least two, and in a lot of cases three, freshmen three years in a row,” said Walsh.