Ordinarily, Richard Barron would spend much of his summer tracking the promising players he has been recruiting during the previous three or four years.
Things are a little different this year for the University of Maine’s first-year women’s basketball head coach. He’s essentially starting from scratch.
Barron is making his way around the country in search of players who might be a good fit for his Black Bears program. After stops in Dallas and Frisco, Texas, last week, he spent Friday night in Atlanta on his way to Orlando — one of several places he will visit in the coming weeks.
“There’s no one way to find kids,” Barron said. “What we’re trying to do is identify as many good prospects as we can and then afterwards we’ll be able to reach out and start making contacts and find out who’s interested.”
Recruiting is a pivotal component in building a successful program. For Barron, who spent the last two seasons at North Carolina State, there is no existing list of contacts or players who may previously have expressed an interest in playing at UMaine.
Barron admits that at some level he’s not sure exactly what he’s looking for as far as recruiting in the short term for UMaine’s immediate needs. That’s because he has only a vague idea about the skill sets of his returning players and incoming recruits.
He has watched some game tape from last season, but explained there is only so much he can glean from such an exercise.
“It’s not necessarily 1. very helpful sometimes or 2. very relevant,” Barron said of watching tape. “We’ll get them out on the court in the fall and start to evaluate. You want to be able to feel like you’re giving everybody a fair and objective start from the beginning.”
Barron said several dynamics, including the former style of play, coaching practices and other dynamics such as injuries made last year’s team what it was. Now, it’s a clean slate.
“It’s not something we can do quickly,” Barron said. “We haven’t worked with our own kids to know what our needs are and the strengths of our current roster.”
Recruiting isn’t an exact science, but Barron has been in the college game long enough to recognize outstanding players when he sees them. His task is to not only identify talent, but to establish whether those players have the willingness to spend four years in Orono, not to mention the academic aptitude and personality traits that will make them supportive teammates and solid campus citizens.
Barron’s hope is to start building relationships with prospective Black Bears — under the limitations of NCAA recruiting rules — to be able to string together three or four good classes in a row and re-establish UMaine as an America East contender.
Barron said the cupboard is pretty bare at this time of year in terms of finding any quality players who might be available immediately. In general, there isn’t a lot of room for error.
“If you miss on a good player, it’s a one-year mistake. There’s always a good player the next year,” Barron said. “If you take a bad player, it’s a four-year mistake.”
Barron said there are two 10-day recruiting periods in July, which will keep him busy. There are some AAU tournaments and other events featuring travel teams.
The greatest benefit is those tournaments bring together players from across the country, which means coaches can see lots of players without having to travel as much.
“We’re having to play catchup,” he said. “It will probably take us three or four years to get where we want to be with our recruiting.”
In spite of the formidable challenge, Barron remains excited about the prospect of doing whatever it takes to turn UMaine back into a consistent winner. That also will play an important role in improving the caliber of players who may consider attending UMaine in the future.
For now, the players who have already signed or committed must be able to help get the ball rolling.
“This year we will start to lay the foundation,” Barron said. “Regardless of the class or the amount of playing time that any of these kids have, they’ll be a big part of how we move forward. We have great faith that we will get it done.”
Barron is doing his part by recruiting hard. He is scheduled to visit Chicago, Nashville and Murfreesboro, Tenn., Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and North Augusta, S.C., this summer in pursuit of future Black Bears.
“We’ve got our eyes open,” he said.
A family in transition
Barron had an opportunity to spend some quality time with his family over the Fourth of July weekend at Grandfather Mountain in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
“It was fun to see them,” he said of his wife Maureen, twin daughters Lane and Rae and son Billy, along with his parents and his in-laws. “They’re all still together up in the mountains — cousins and uncles and aunts.”
The Barrons have put their home in Raleigh, N.C., up for sale in the hope of making the move to Greater Bangor sometime in the near future.
Black Bears on campus
Barron said UMaine’s returning players and incoming recruits have all arrived on the Orono campus.
Most of the players will be taking summer classes as they begin gearing up for the fall semester and the 2011-12 basketball season.
“They’re in summer school classes right now and they will work with our strength and conditioning coach doing some work,” Barron said.