The University of Maine women’s basketball team will be virtually unrecognizable next season.
That isn’t a bad thing, given the Black Bears’ recent futility in the America East Conference and beyond.
Richard Barron wasn’t about to allow the struggles to continue; not if his name is going to be attached to the program.
His determination to reverse UMaine’s fortunes is evident in the way he has overhauled the roster since his arrival. Only five players remain from the Cindy Blodgett era and two of those never played for the former Bears’ coach.
A handful of the changes were the result of injuries as Samantha Wheeler, Amber Smith and Rachele Burns have hung up their sneakers. Others, including Shareka Maner, Kelsey Mattice and walk-on Amber Dillon, have weeded themselves out of the mix and left the program.
All those changes, plus the uncertainty of a second knee injury to Ali Nalivaika, forced Barron to take immediate and significant action.
He landed three players last November during the early signing period, but was well aware there would be several more spots to fill prior to the start of the 2012-13 season.
So Barron packed his bags and traveled to Europe where, during the course of less than three weeks and at a cost of approximately $10,000, he sold several players on the opportunity to become Black Bears.
Barron admitted the pickings were a slim in the U.S. early in 2012, especially if he wanted to fast-forward the rebuilding process. Thus, he changed his philosophy out of necessity.
What he found during his trip through Europe was a handful of players whom he believes are better than the leftovers in the U.S. One of the dynamics that was evident as he evaluated the foreign players was their superior level of experience as part of club teams.
Those squads are made up of players whose ages cover a wide range, including high school players all the way up through former U.S. college standouts who are now paid professionals.
For that reason, Barron quickly realized the players he was recruiting would be more advanced and better prepared to contribute immediately at the Division I level.
By the time the regular signing period was complete, six more players had signed National Letters of Intent to play for the Black Bears.
Bringing in a single class of nine players is unusual, and probably not ideal. It means four years down the road, there will again be a significant void when those student-athletes exhaust their eligibility.
However, Barron wasn’t about to wait around and try to piece things back together.
It will be a huge challenge to essentially start over, with only four healthy players returning in Corinne Wellington, Ashleigh Roberts, Danielle Walczak and Courtney Anderson. They must blend with the newcomers who, in turn, must learn Barron’s system and adjust to life on the other side of the Atlantic.
If his recruiting eye is any match for his commitment to make UMaine into a winner again, the Bears should be able to put a more competitive and entertaining team on the court next winter.