Bob Walsh has been the head coach for men’s basketball at the University of Maine for less than three weeks.
But in that short amount of time he has already hired two assistant coaches and signed two recruits to National Letters of Intent.
More recently, he received a commitment from another player.
Shaun Lawton, who asked for a release from his scholarship last month in order to pursue other opportunities, will be back in a Black Bears uniform next season.
The 6-foot-5-inch guard, who will be a junior in the fall, has decided to remain with the UMaine program.
“It’s a credit to him, honestly, the way he handled himself,” said Walsh, who explained Lawton explored other options but continued to meet his academic responsibilities and didn’t burn any bridges.
Walsh said some of his contacts, who coached Lawton in the past, indicated he might be willing to remain in Orono and would be suited to the program’s new leadership.
Lawton was poised to jump ship along with classmates Dimitry Akanda-Coronel and Xavier Pollard, who transferred to Bryant University and Kent State, respectively.
Walsh said he was willing to consider Lawton’s situation, once he did some homework.
“I talked to his teammates, I talked to the administration and the people in the athletic department, the academic people,” he explained. “I literally talked to anybody who knew him and said, tell me your take on him.”
Walsh said he supported Lawton’s wish to stay but asked him to mull it over before deciding.
“I didn’t want anybody who wasn’t totally committed,” Walsh said. “He thought about it, and he called me and he said, ‘Coach, I want to be a part of the culture that you’re going to build there.’ We’re happy that he’ll be with us.”
Lawton led the Black Bears in assists, at 4.2 per game; steals, 2; and turnovers, 3.2, this past season. He ranked fourth in scoring at 8.1 points per game.
Hitting the ground running
Walsh and his assistant coaches have been working hard to get the program up to speed.
He said it can’t be construed as a transition period, since there has been no down time since he was hired May 7.
“When a change is made in this time period, you really have to hit the ground running,” Walsh said.
He first hired longtime University of Vermont assistant Matt O’Brien and Zak Boisvert from Fairleigh Dickinson. Their efforts have been instrumental in signing a pair of recruits — former Lee Academy prep standouts Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little.
Walsh said the group began sitting around a desk with their laptops, watching video and making recruiting calls.
“We’d kind of work until it’s dark out, then go to Applebee’s for dinner, then get up the next day and do it again,” said Walsh, who also enjoys the fried pickles at the Bear Brew Pub in Orono.
The staff used its extensive basketball contacts to pore through a group of some 100 potential recruits. Walsh said the emphasis always is on finding a good fit.
“A lot of times you’re concerned that the kids are available at this time of year for a reason, that there’s some sort of flaw there or there’s something missing,” he said.
However, Walsh and his staff took a cautious approach. They signed Calixte and Little based on existing knowledge and recommendations from their coaching peers.
“I’ve seen Aaron Calixte play a bunch,” Walsh said. “When I first got the job and I realized he was available, I was like ‘wow!’”
He was familiar with Little, who played for one of his former Rhode Island College players on an AAU squad.
He credited O’Brien and Boisvert for their efforts in finding the right players for the Black Bears.
“Having those guys on board is huge, and they were the biggest factor in getting both of the kids that we got,” Walsh said.
Laying the foundation
Walsh said his other priority, besides recruiting, has been trying to establish a rapport with his players. However, many of them have returned home.
“I’d like to develop a relationship with my players as much as I can,” he said.
“The week after I started, we had a couple of guys in summer school — May term — and we can work them out, which was great.”
Walsh is gearing up for his Dynamic Leadership Academy set Monday and Tuesday at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island.
The event brings together coaches, administrators and other professionals to discuss some of the important dynamics involved in leadership and team building.
He hopes to eventually bring a similar kind of event to Maine.