Richard Barron spent less than two years as the associate head coach at Baylor University.
Yet while he was there, he helped recruit several of the players who make up this season’s top-ranked Bears women’s basketball team.
The University of Maine’s head coach will be watching intently Sunday as Baylor (38-0) begins its quest for the national championship with a Final Four contest in Denver against No. 2 Stanford.
Barron served as the recruiting coordinator for Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey from 2007 to 2009. His efforts helped land the majority of the seniors and juniors on this year’s team, which reached the Elite 8 last season.
Under his watch the Bears signed Brittney Griner, a 6-foot-8 phenom from Houston who was the consensus top high school player in the country. That 2009 recruiting class, which also included Baylor starters Kimetria Hayden and Jordan Madden, was ranked No. 1 among all Division I programs.
“There were a lot of people who worked on that, too,” Barron said. “It wasn’t my work alone, at all. It was definitely a team effort.”
Griner was the crown jewel. She has been a force, earning All-America honors three straight years, including first-team accolades the last two seasons.
“There’s never been anyone like her,” Barron said. “She’s completely unique in the way she plays and dominates the game, similar to the way Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell dominated the game.”
Barron said Griner had a comfort level with Baylor, which started recruiting her early. That, coupled with Mulkey’s reputation, the school’s location in Houston and the support of Griner’s father were keys in her choosing Baylor.
However, the recruitment wasn’t without challenges as competitors tried to lure Griner away before she signed her National Letter of Intent.
“You’ve got to know that people are trying to do whatever they can to get a player like that,” Barron said.
“The majority of it was just maintaining that relationship and see her as frequently as we could,” he added.
Barron, who maintains contact with Griner, described her as a nice young woman who is unselfish and humble in spite of her status as the best player in the nation.
Recruiting at UMaine has something in common with the Baylor situation from five years ago.
“Baylor wasn’t in the hole that Maine was, but there were a lot of players that needed to be recruited in a very short time,” Barron said.
And there are some obvious differences.
The talent level of players considering Baylor and those looking at UMaine is significant in most cases. Yet no recruit is dismissed out of hand.
“You look at the best players you can until they tell you no,” Barron said.
However, UMaine also plays in a low-level Division I conference in America East and the Black Bears are coming off a string of several losing seasons.
“We’ve got to make the program more competitive so that when we are trying to recruit somebody who’s an elite-level player, there’s a reason for them to want to come,” Barron said.
Barron’s extensive recruiting trip through Europe over the last few weeks was designed to help bridge the gap by bringing in players who can step in and contribute immediately.
Many of the younger European players are more advanced because of the high level of play on club teams. Some of them have former U.S. college players and other professionals on their rosters.
And though Barron hadn’t originally planned to use the European approach, he believes it is the best solution in the short term.
“We can’t afford to continue down the path that we’ve been on the last six years,” he said. “If we were recruiting either in New England or in the U.S. out of what’s left over from the senior class, we would be in the same position in the coming years.”
Judging from his success recruiting at Baylor, Barron’s experience should be beneficial in UMaine’s planned resurgence.
“It’s what the program deserves and what our fans deserve, to try to find the best players we can now and get this thing turned around,” he said.