Date Posted:11/20/2002,  8:00AM

2002-03 Men's Basketball Preview

BRUNSWICK, Maine ? The Bowdoin College men?s basketball team will enter the 2002-03 season with new faces abound. After the graduation of five seniors last spring, the Polar Bears essentially lost half of their roster from a team that posted a strong 16-9 record last winter.

But an influx of talented first-years, combined with the development of a key class of four sophomores, have produced a sense of anticipation in a program that has averaged 16 wins per season since 1995.

?I?m very happy with how hard we?ve been working so far,? says head coach Tim Gilbride, the winningest coach in Bowdoin history (17 seasons, 228-180). ?We?ve gotten some outstanding leadership from our seniors that we hope will continue.?

Returning to pace the Polar Bears will be offensive stalwart Braden Clement (Skowhegan, Maine). The senior guard will be the focal point of the offense after a junior campaign that saw him place second on the squad at 11 points/game. Clement was at his best in NESCAC games, shooting 52% from the field and 45% from three-point range in averaging 14.6 points/game against conference foes. Classmates Danny Ginn (Windham, Maine) and Michael Harding (Hanover, Mass.) both will look to improve on their output from the guard/forward position this winter, as both will likely see more time in ?02-?03. Senior post Matt Fleck (Brooklyn, N.Y.) will also step in the frontcourt spotlight with more court time this year.

?In Braden and Danny, we think we have two of the top shooters in the conference,? says Gilbride. ?Obviously we?re going to be counting on them to give us some points this year.?

The lone junior on the team is T.J. McLeod (Gorham, Maine), who offered glimpses of offensive potential last season. McLeod will undoubtedly get more opportunities to produce this year for the Polar Bears.

A key to the team?s success could be the progression of four sophomores on the squad. Guards Sean Walker (Skowhegan, Maine) will fight for more time, while Corey Gildart (Bangor, Maine) will attempt to become part of the rotation this winter. In the front-court, 6-7 Mark Yakavonis (Barrington, R.I.) saw significant time as a rookie last year, averaging 16 minutes per game, while the Polar Bears hope 6-11 Jim McDonald (Denver, Colo.) will take advantage of his height in the post.

?Mark finished very strong last year, and we?re hoping that he takes off from that point,? according to Gilbride. ?He has gained a lot of confidence, especially on the offensive end, and he?ll get more chances this year. Sean has a good shot and Corey can handle the ball. Jim is playing with more confidence and seems to be stronger this year, and we?ll definitely use T.J.?s athleticism.?

Five freshman will all compete for time in 2002-03 and will likely get their opportunity to contribute to the squad. Guards Mario Lopez (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Eli Maitland (Acton, Mass.) join forwards Kyle Petrie (Iowa City, Iowa), Teddy Ligon (Medford, Mass.) and Nick Ordway (South Portland, Maine) to form a solid crop as the future of Bowdoin basketball.

?We?ll definitely use our young players this season,? says Gilbride. ?Of the first-years, Kyle is very versatile and will see action. Teddy is very athletic and as he adjusts to the college game, he?ll continue to improve abd Nick is a very smart player. They?ll all get a chance to contribute.?

The Polar Bears will open their season against daunting competition this weekend at the UMass-Dartmouth Tournament. The always-tough NESCAC season will see the Polar Bears take trips to Williams, Middlebury and Tufts, and host Trinity and Amherst on back-to-back days (Jan. 17-18).

?Our league is so competitive,? says Gilbride. ?We have to realize that because it?s so competitive, any game can be a win or a loss. Our goal is to finish as high as we can in the standings to set things up for the post-season tournament and go from there.?