ORONO, Maine — When Richard Barron took the University of Maine women’s basketball team on a tour of Italy in May 2015, the Black Bears boasted a veteran roster with high expectations for the coming season.
As Barron gets set to leave on another international foray next week, the backdrop couldn’t be more different.
Barron, now five months into his tenure as UMaine men’s basketball coach, will lead a brand new coaching staff and a 15-player roster that includes seven new recruits on a weeklong trip to Costa Rica beginning Tuesday.
NCAA Division I basketball teams are allowed to participate in such a foreign tour once every four years.
“There are two times to take this trip,” Barron said this week. “One is like us where it’s a lot of new things coming together, so you’re taking advantage of the extra time in order to try to catch up while other people are building off their previous season, and institutional knowledge that everybody brings back, and you’re really teaching what you’re teaching to maybe four new guys.
“The other time is what we did with the women’s team and that’s when you have a senior-heavy team, and you’re really trying to build momentum going into the next season and capitalize on all the returning talent.”
The trip — which is being funded with the money received from an upcoming guarantee game at the University of Utah on Nov. 8 — will blend basketball and team bonding among a UMaine squad that represents 11 different countries.
The Black Bears will play three games at Ciudad Deportiva in San Jose, the Costa Rican capital. Two will be against the University of Calgary Dinos — the reigning Canadian U Sports collegiate champion — next Wednesday and Friday along with a single game against local professional club team San Ramon on Thursday.
“This is not a trip where we’re worried about the scoreboard at all,” Barron said. “We’re only working right now on our offense. We won’t have any time to really work on defense, so we’re just trying to make sure we we’ve got adequate man and zone offense in for whatever we might see down there.
“A game could get really ugly if somebody throws a 1-2-1-1 press into a 1-3-1 trap against us, we’re not ready for that and we wouldn’t expect to be.”
The UMaine contingent also will participate in a team service project at Holy Spirit orphanage, a trip to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and a visit to Crocodile Bridge — home to some of the largest crocodiles in the wild. The team also will take part in a zip line canopy tour in Los Suenos.
“Getting to know each other off the court is going to help us on the court,” said Black Bears’ redshirt junior guard Isaiah White, one of eight returning players from last year’s 6-26 club under former coach Bob Walsh. “We already enjoy being around each other a lot, so being in Costa Rica is going to be fun and will give us a chance to strengthen our bond.”
Among the additional benefits of these international tours are the 10 practices teams are allowed to prepare for the trip.
“We’ve been together for two weeks getting to know each other and trying to spend as much time together on and off the court, and getting ready for Costa Rica, the upcoming season and the couple of years we’ll have together,” UMaine junior forward Andrew Fleming said.
“We’ve made a ton of progress, and the special thing about this is that not everybody gets to do this during the summer. We get these 10 practices and it puts us ahead in some ways. We’ll be 10 practices in when everyone else is starting in October.”
Several players admitted to having little advance knowledge about their destination.
“I don’t [know] that much about Costa Rica; it’s actually my first time really traveling on a plane,” said freshman guard Terion Moss of Portland. “I’m kind of nervous about it, to be honest.”
Moss’ pre-flight jitters are unlikely to be the last growing pain for a UMaine basketball program attempting to regroup after compiling a 24-100 record over the past four seasons.
“There’s no doubt we’re kind of starting from ground zero,” Barron said. “This is a rebuild and no matter what sort of previous success any program has, when half the team is new and you have a new staff you’re talking about a whole lot of changes.”
“We’re really in the very beginning stages of a very long journey, and this is going to be a fun way to start but it’s also not a quick fix,” he added. “It’s a little further along the path than we would have been otherwise, so maybe it’s a little bit of a head start, but it’s in a race that we were already behind in.”
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