ORONO — It might not be “Basketball 101,” but the preseason has represented a new beginning for the members of the University of Maine women’s basketball team.
First-year head coach Richard Barron and his staff are implementing an entirely new system and philosophy, which means veterans and newcomers alike have a steep learning curve as they prepare for the start of the 2011-12 season.
“It’s definitely a lot to take in,” said junior guard Amber Smith, who nonetheless has embraced the challenge.
“It’s refreshing to have a new outlook on the whole team,” she said. “It’s not only good to learn basketball-wise, it’s brought our team together.”
UMaine fans’ first look at his Black Bear team comes Sunday with a 2 p.m. exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick at Alfond Arena.
The UMaine men open the doubleheader against Fisher College in a noon exhibition contest.
A visit to a recent UMaine women’s practice was evidence of the reconfiguration process facing Barron and his staff. He frequently asked the players to “stop” during drills in order to provide instruction and make sure the plays were being executed properly.
Barron is nonetheless pleased about the players’ desire to learn and improve.
“They’re having to think a lot, they’re having to learn a lot, so sometimes that causes them to become a little sedentary,” he explained. “That’s a problem of them having to learn so much more than a lack of effort.”
Senior guard Brittany Williams has already witnessed growth as the Bears embark on a new era under Barron.
“The transition is good,” she said. “We’re now learning to be more of a defensive team and more of a fast-paced offense, but learning to compose ourselves during it.”
The Bears have demonstrated plenty of enthusiasm in adopting the new principles, but Barron doesn’t want the players to get too far ahead of themselves.
“It’s a challenge, because sometimes working hard and working fast aren’t necessarily the same thing,” he said. “Getting them to play at the right speed and to make the right decisions, it takes settling down a little bit.”
Barron, who has a plethora of small guards and a small team overall, hopes to develop a balance between hard-nosed defense and effective offense at the other end.
“Getting them in sync with each other is a little bit of a challenge, but it’s a good problem to have, kids who are working hard,” Barron said.
“We’ve got a mantra that you speed up on defense, slow down on offense,” he added. “We’re trying to communicate that.”
Players like Williams are seeing growth in many areas.
“I would say that our chemistry is strong,” Williams said. “Over the summer, we’ve been around each other all the time, playing pickup, having team dinners.”
Smith said having everyone starting from the same point has its advantages.
“We’re all coming in with a clean slate,” said Smith, who has warmed to Barron’s coaching style and personality.
“I like that he has a family. He treats this whole program very family-like,” she explained. “Not to say that we don’t work. We definitely work and he’s very honest with us. He tells it like it is.”
Barron continues to stress that building a winning program is going to be done in increments, over time.
“They’re excited about the season, but I hope that what they’re excited about is improving,” he said. “It’s gradual, there’s no in-game (learning) early in the season. Over the course of this year, the goal is just consistent, steady improvement.”