University of Maine men's basketball players Vukasin Masic (from left), Adefolarin Adetogun and Stephane Ingo bring the ball down the court in a November 2021 game. Credit: Courtesy of UMaine Athletics

With six European natives on its current roster, the University of Maine men’s basketball team might well feel more at home than the other three NCAA Division I programs taking part in the inaugural Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame London Showcase.

The one-of-a-kind basketball doubleheader will be held at London’s famed O2 arena on Sunday, Dec. 4.

The event will be headlined by a matchup between the University of Kentucky and the University of Michigan, which will be preceded by a clash between UMaine and Marist College of Poughkeepsie, New York. It will mark the first college basketball games ever played at The O2, known as the world’s busiest arena.

The UMaine-Marist game is set for 3:30 p.m. London time or 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, followed by the Kentucky-Michigan game at 6 p.m. in London or 1 p.m. Eastern time.

“For a lot of our students they don’t get to participate in some of the more off-campus type of student life experiences, whether it be like a study-abroad opportunity or something along those lines, because they commit so much time to their craft,” UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said. “But this gives these students a chance to go to London, to immerse themselves in the culture for a few days, to bond as a team and to learn how to interact with other people from around the world.

Ralph also indicated that the London trip may provide a home game of sorts for the European players on the UMaine team, offering them an opportunity to play in front of family and friends.

The showcase originally was scheduled for Dec. 6, 2020, but was postponed due to concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Basketball Hall of Fame is proud to celebrate the game on a global scale and we couldn’t be more excited to host four Division I men’s teams in London this December,” said John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Basketball Hall of Fame. “We were disappointed to postpone our event in 2020 but could not be more excited to get the inaugural games underway soon.”

Maryland Baltimore County was set to represent America East against Marist along with the Kentucky-Michigan matchup when the doubleheader first was scheduled two years ago, but UMaine and former men’s basketball head coach Richard Barron accepted the opportunity to fill that spot when plans were made to reschedule the event early in the 2022-23 season.

Barron and the university mutually agreed to part ways on Feb. 17, and former assistant coach Jai Steadman is serving as interim head coach through the remainder of the current season, which ends Tuesday night with a home game against Vermont at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

“Richard was always looking for new opportunities for the team to get exposure and for the team to have some compelling student life-type opportunities and this came up where Maine and Marist would be on the undercard of Kentucky and Michigan,” Ralph said. “This was too good to pass up and we said yes to it right away.”

Ralph said the $15,000 guarantee UMaine will receive for participating in the showcase will cover much of the team’s transportation costs, but that the program will be responsible for most of the on-the-ground expenses during the trip.

He added that the new head coach will determine just how long the team will be abroad.

“We can’t make this a very long trip because students will still be taking [first-semester] classes on campus,” Ralph said. “But I do know the faculty have been very supportive of these kinds of opportunities for our students in the past.”

Like UMaine, Marist College comes from the Division I mid-major ranks, in its case the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The Red Foxes are 14-13 overall this season, 9-9 in MAAC play, and own a 4-0 lead in their series against the Black Bears. The teams last met on Dec. 16, 2012, in upstate New York with Marist scoring a 94-69 victory.

“We’re excited for the opportunity to play a quality opponent in London,” Marist coach John Dunne said. “It will be a great chance for our guys to see another country and help expand Marist’s reach. We’re looking forward to the showcase.”

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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...