Maine women’s basketball coach scouring Europe in search of future Black Bears

University of Maine women’s head coach Richard Barron watches the University at Albany warm up during a game in Orono in January. Barron has been keeping busy on a recruiting trip in Europe.
University of Maine women’s head coach Richard Barron watches the University at Albany warm up during a game in Orono in January. Barron has been keeping busy on a recruiting trip in Europe. Buy Photo
Posted March 27, 2012, at 7:46 p.m.

Richard Barron has recently been posting photographs on Facebook of scenic vistas, ornate hotel lobbies and meals from cities all across Europe.

To the uninformed, it might seem as though the head coach of the University of Maine women’s basketball team has been enjoying a vacation overseas.

Au contraire.

Barron is scouring the region — from Italy to Finland — for student-athletes who can help transform the Black Bears program back into a consistent winner. He believes he has found some.

“I have seen elite national team players play on this trip, and [ones] who aren’t being overrecruited,” Barron said Tuesday as he waited at Riga International Airpoirt in Latvia for a flight to Brussels, Belgium. “I’m extremely excited about that.”

The journey encompassing at least 10 countries began March 13 with a flight to Rome. He proceeded to Belgrade, Serbia, then headed to Helsinki, Finland, for more player evaluations.

Then it was on to Stockholm and Sodertalje, both of which are located in Sweden. Barron also visited Oslo, Norway, before heading to Berlin, Halle and Leipzig, all in Germany.

“This [Europe] is the best place to get the best players right now for our program and to get us where we want to be,” Barron said.

Barron then trekked to London for a connecting flight to Tel Aviv, Israel, and stopped in Latvia on his way to Belgium, where he was scheduled to spend Tuesday and Wednesday nights in Brussels before heading to Milan, Italy, then Rome for his trip home Saturday.

“I’ve spent most of my time in airports, hotels and bus stations,” said Barron, who noted it is a tremendous challenge to negotiate the public transportation systems in numerous countries without being able to speak the language.

“It’s not easy,” he added. “It’s a leap of faith, but I’ve not been delayed or missed any meetings.”

While waiting in Riga, Barron said Tuesday he has received commitments from four young women who hope to continue their educations and their basketball careers at UMaine. He is prohibited by NCAA rules from discussing those recruits until the university has received their signed National Letters of Intent. The regular signing period begins April 11.

While criss-crossing Europe might seem unconventional, Barron said it is the best way for him to boost his program’s talent level quickly. He said that in Europe he has access to more outstanding players than he could find with similar effort and cost in the United States.

“All these things are a positive,” Barron said. “This program needs to take these steps to get to where we want to be. We’re rebranding the program.”

Any European recruits who sign this spring would join a list of three American players who committed to attend UMaine back in November.

“The best thing to do for Maine is to overhaul this roster,” added Barron, who predicated that statement by praising the returning players for buying into his philosophy.

However, the proverbial cupboard continues to get more bare.

The returnees include two players (Rachele Burns and Amber Smith) who have experienced significant health concerns and may not be able to return to the court next season. That means UMaine would have only four healthy players (senior Corinne Wellington, junior Ashleigh Roberts and sophomores Danielle Walczak and Courtney Anderson of Greene) along with junior Ali Nalivaika, who is coming off a second knee surgery.

Shareka Maner, Kelsey Mattice and Amber Dillon all left the program during the 2011-12 season, then freshman Rebecca Knight of Alfred recently announced her intention to transfer to the University of Southern Maine in Gorham.

Barron said his recruiting trip, though extensive, has been a cost-effective process.

“I don’t want anyone to think this has been an expensive or an extravagant trip,” Barron said.

Barron said before he returns, he will have met with 12 prospects at “well less than $1,000 per prospect.” He said he could easily spend more money to evaluate players in the U.S.

Recruiting on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean has been an integral part of recent efforts by coach Ted Woodward’s staff with the UMaine men’s program. Spearheaded by the efforts of associate head coach Doug Leichner, the Bears featured seven foreign players on this year’s roster.

That included two from Canada and one apiece from Finland, Bulgaria, Scotland, Israel and Serbia.

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