Matt Fleming of Bangor is pictured dunking while playing for the Maine Renegades AAU basketball team. Credit: Contributed photo

Matt Fleming already has had a highly decorated high school basketball career with a year still to go.

But his verbal commitment Monday to attend Army after he graduates from Bangor High School next spring isn’t just the next step in that part of his life.

The Rams’ big guy has a clear view of his big picture.

“I really think it’s the perfect place for me,” the 6-foot-6-inch rising senior said of his decision to attend Army beginning in the fall of 2019. “They have a great basketball program that’s young and progressing, and they play the style that I like, which is really fast-paced with a lot of (3-pointers) shot.

“And the after-playing-in-college part is really exciting for me. West Point is (ranked) among the top 1 percent of leadership schools in the country, and having a degree from there you can pretty much get a job leading anywhere you want.”

The mobile forward with deep shooting range and shot-blocking defensive ability arguably will be the state’s top returning player for the coming season after leading a seniorless Bangor High team to the 2018 Class AA North tournament in February.

Fleming was named to the Bangor Daily News All-Maine first team and was a finalist for the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award in his first season at Bangor after transferring from Oxford Hills of South Paris last summer.

He averaged 25.3 points and 13.2 rebounds for the Rams last winter while shooting better than 50 percent from the field and more than 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Fleming scored a school-record 45 points during a regular-season victory at Windham and surpassed 1,000 career points in the final game of his junior year.

Before transferring to Bangor, Fleming earned second-team BDN All-Maine recognition as a sophomore at Oxford Hills afteraveraging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds while leading the Vikings to the 2017 Class AA North semifinals.

Fleming required barely a week to confirm his college decision after being offered the chance to join Army’s basketball program on the Fourth of July. That was thanks in part to Black Knights’ assistant coach Zak Boisvert. The Portland native, before joining the West Point staff in September 2016, helped recruit Fleming’s older brother, Andrew Fleming, to the University of Maine while serving as an assistant coach for the Black Bears.

“Zak had tracked down three or four of my games from the season and showed the head coach the videos on the 3rd,” said Fleming, who also considered offers from the UMaine and Division II Franklin Pierce University of Rindge, New Hampshire. “They thought I’d fit in really well and they thought it would be pretty special for a military academy to make the offer on the 4th.”

Fleming said he got considerable advice from his brother, who will be a junior forward at UMaine next season.

“He was really supportive, but he just let me know that everything was my choice,” Fleming said. “He didn’t want to persuade me toward Maine in any way because he was only going to be there for one year (with me). He didn’t want to force me in that direction.

“Andrew really liked Zak. Zak is a big reason he went to Maine and then Zak left, but he’s really good friends with Zak and knew that it would be a good fit for me.”

An additional influence came from family friend and former neighbor Mike Johnson, whom Fleming said shared many experiences from his military career of more than two decades once Army began its recruiting efforts in early 2017.

“The idea of a military lifestyle really didn’t start to spike my imagination until they began showing interest in me,” said Fleming. “I hadn’t given it any consideration and, honestly, I don’t think I would have chosen this path unless they offered me. I probably wouldn’t have ended up in the military, but given this opportunity and knowing how rare it is, I couldn’t imagine not taking it.”

Army finished 13-17 overall, 6-12 in Patriot League play, last winter under third-year head coach Jimmy Allen, but Fleming’s stay at Army will begin with a redshirt year of sorts.

“Luckily the Army basketball team sends its players to a prep school that’s right on campus and that gives them an opportunity to grow into college-level players,” he said. “The coaches told me most of their recruits leave the prep school 15 pounds stronger than they were coming in, and that’s definitely going to help me for my freshman season in 2020.”

Fleming is looking forward to the preview that prep school year will provide him, including three weeks of field exercises to sample the military side of college life and a challenging 40-game basketball schedule.

“We play against some of the top prep schools in the country, so I’ll be playing some of the best players in the country and in front of a lot of the best coaches,” he said. “The prep school will give me a chance to experience all of the aspects, and from there you really just need to be willing and want to be part of that lifestyle.”

And for Matt Fleming, that lifestyle transcends mere basketball, which prompted his relatively early verbal commitment.

“Basketball is going to be for four to five years of my college life,” he said. “The decision I make about what college I go to is going to be for the rest of my life. I didn’t commit to their basketball team. They offered me, but I committed to their school.

“I couldn’t imagine going anyplace else. I just wanted to lock in my place before they decided to go in another direction.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...