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Last year when Richard Barron was negotiating for his University of Maine men’s basketball team to play the University of Virginia during the 2019-20 season, the Cavaliers were coming off a historic postseason defeat.
Several months earlier, the Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed in NCAA Division I tournament history to be eliminated by a No. 16 seed when Maryland, Baltimore County — like UMaine a member of America East — scored a stunning 74-54 first-round victory.
Yet when the fruits of Barron’s negotiations are realized and UMaine visits the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the day before Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, the Black Bears won’t be facing a humbled Atlantic Coast Conference power, but the reigning national champions.
“Stylistically Virginia’s a team from the school itself to the standpoint of the success they’ve had on the court to the way they execute and to the integrity of their coach [Tony Bennett], that’s a program that we would love to emulate so getting a chance to play a team like Virginia is a great experience for us,” said Barron, who has begun his second year as the Black Bears’ head coach.
“You get to see where the bar is set.”
Virginia finished 35-3 last winter, capturing the ACC regular-season championship and ultimately the NCAA title by outlasting Texas Tech 85-77 in overtime in the championship game.
UMaine went 5-27 during Barron’s debut with the men’s team last winter. He previously coached the UMaine’s women’s basketball program from 2011 to 2017.
UMaine will receive a financial guarantee from Virginia for filling a nonconference home dates on the Cavaliers’ home schedule, though the amount has not yet been revealed.
Last season, the Black Bears played six “guarantee” games that brought in $620,000 for UMaine athletics. The most lucrative of those was the University of Utah ($90,000), which likely means the Virginia game is worth in excess of $100,000.
“We don’t schedule any game thinking we’re going to lose,” Barron said. “We’re going to try to win every game we play, but there’s also the necessity of scheduling games that bring in revenue, so if we’re going to do that, I’d like it to be a game they can enjoy and remember similar to the men playing Duke a few years ago.”
UMaine played Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina, in a similar guarantee game Dec. 3, 2016, with fifth-ranked Duke posting a 94-55 victory.
“Eventually on the women’s side we got so we could win some of those guarantee games, and hopefully there will be a time we can do that on the men’s side, too,” Barron said.
Both teams will be markedly different from a year ago.
Three players from Virginia’s national championship team, De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, were selected in the recent NBA draft. UMaine is expected to have only four players back who saw significant action last winter in seniors Andrew Fleming and Sergio El Darwich, and juniors Vilgot Larsson and Miks Antoms.
“Winning is not the only objective in playing these games,” Barron said. “There are a lot of other wins that come of out of it even if the scoreboard doesn’t have you with more points at the end of the game.”
Bears to host summer camp
Next up for the UMaine men’s basketball team is summer school and a week as clinicians at its summer youth basketball camp.
The day camp for boys 7-14 will run July 8-11.
“All of our players will be here at summer school and working camp and doing their summer workouts,” Barron said. “I would love for potential fans and obviously campers to interact with them. We had that tradition on the women’s side. There’s not been that kind of tradition on the men’s side and we’d like to change that.”
For more information on the day camp, access goblackbears.com.