I haven’t known Richard Barron long and I don’t know him well, but he doesn’t like losing.
It has been a frustrating start for Barron as he begins the process of trying to turn around what sadly is one of the worst women’s basketball programs in Division I. UMaine (3-13 overall, 0-3 in America East) is No. 326 among 342 Division I teams in the Rating Percentage Index.
Initially, Barron was excited about the prospect of starting over. He probably wasn’t fully aware what he was getting into in terms of the caliber of players he was inheriting at UMaine.
By now, the Black Bears’ first-year head coach has been able to take a long, hard look at his players. For the most part, he isn’t impressed.
One thing that people will learn about Barron is, he is a straight shooter. He tells it like it is, whether in practice with the team, speaking with boosters or dealing with the media.
Barron already has, on a couple of occasions, questioned whether UMaine has any bona fide Division I players on its roster. I think he believes there are a few, but two or three legitimate players aren’t going to carry an entire team.
Barron should recognize Division I talent. He coached a winning program at Princeton and served as an assistant at high-powered Baylor and at North Carolina State.
He has seen enough players to know what UMaine needs to succeed and will have a better grasp after the Bears go through the season and he can evaluate UMaine’s America East opponents.
However, this isn’t professional ball and Barron can’t affect trades to bring in players he believes are better suited to his needs.
Barron’s honesty about his players’ abilities probably has already sent a message. Primarily, anyone who isn’t good enough should be prepared to move on.
While the coach isn’t about to single out players in newspaper, radio or TV interviews, he likely has identified which ones can help the Bears as they move forward.
It is worth noting that UMaine players whose eligibility after last season was listed by their redshirt year — a redshirt junior as opposed to a senior with another year of eligibility remaining — are now being labeled seniors.
Barron appears to be fast-forwarding the process to expedite their departure, which is within his rights as the coach. Under National Letter of Intent rules, athletic scholarships are only binding for one year. That means there are no guarantees for any of the players on scholarship.
Barron would be completely within his rights to tell anyone on the team, at the end of this season, that he will not be renewing their scholarship. I expect that is exactly what will happen, for the benefit of the program.
While it might not be a popular move, it is the only way for Barron to be able to speed up the transition and bring in his own recruits. Expect significant roster turnover prior to next season.
UMaine loses three seniors, whose spots have been accounted for by the three players who signed to play for the Black Bears during the November NLI period. And junior Shareka Maner last week left the team for undisclosed reasons as the result of a “personal situation.”
There’s another scholarship freed up. And it won’t end there.
Barron is likely to offer to help some players pursue other college basketball opportunities and one or two others still may opt to leave the team of their own accord.
It wouldn’t be that shocking for UMaine’s 2011-12 roster to include as few as six or seven players off this year’s team.
The unfortunate aspect is, none of the young women — most of whom are dedicated and work hard — are to blame for their circumstances. They went to UMaine because they were offered the opportunity to play Division I basketball, most with scholarships.
However, few have distinguished themselves on the court. The only way UMaine is going to re-establish itself as an America East contender is by bringing in better players.
Barron faces the daunting task of attempting to help this year’s team improve and maximize its potential, even as some players probably can see the proverbial handwriting on the wall in terms of what the future may hold.
Ultimately, it’s survival of the fittest in the basketball sense and coach Barron clearly can see UMaine’s evolution can be expedited only through an influx of more talented ballplayers.