ORONO — In only takes one look to realize things are going to be different with the University of Maine women’s basketball team — and sooner than later.
Coach Richard Barron put the 2012-13 team on display Saturday morning during the annual Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage in Memorial Gymnasium.
One glorified practice might be a tiny sample in the grand scheme of things, but anyone who has watched Division I women’s basketball will recognize the turnaround at UMaine has begun.
The reason is simple: Talent.
Prior to Barron’s arrival in May 2011, the UMaine women’s program was at an all-time low. The Bears had compiled a dismal 17-71 record during the previous three seasons, including a 4-25 mark during coach Cindy Blodgett’s final year.
Those teams had a few potential impact players, but the overall caliber of the roster was insufficient to win consistently at this level. And injuries to the likes of Sam Wheeler, who is now helping out the team in a non-playing role, also were a factor.
It was a small gathering in “The Pit” on Saturday, including parents with kids in tow for the free basketball clinic that was held after the scrimmage. Many of the same devoted UMaine fans who previously had been shaking their heads in disbelief were nodding in approval as they watched the new contingent of players.
Before going any further, let’s be clear. The revamping of the roster is only the first step, albeit a crucial one, in the process of re-establishing the UMaine program.
Nobody should expect Barron and his staff can wave some magic wand that will transform this group into an instant America East champion — or even a title contender. It is going to take some time.
And in all fairness to the players, including nine freshmen and two sophomores, they must be allowed to make gradual improvement as they learn to play together at a higher level.
But this team shows real promise, if the Blue-White game is any indication.
First, it appears as though the four returning players have made strides. Senior Corinne Wellington looks like a new, more confidenct player, having added some perimeter shooting and ballhandling to her repertoire.
Junior Ashleigh Roberts is playing more under control, staying within the structure of the game. Courtney Anderson has settled down and is stroking 3-pointers while making better decisions with the ball. Danielle Walczak is more polished in the post.
The freshman class looks like a well-rounded group that combines quickness and aggressiveness among the guards, some bigger, stronger bodies in the frontcourt and versatility throughout.
There are more shooters, like Liz Wood, Brittany Wells and Lauren Bodine. Anna Heise has the potential to be a force in the paint along with Mikaela Gustafsson, but both also have considerable shooting range.
Chantel Charles is a bigger guard who’s not afraid to rebound, while Michal Assaf and Milica Mitrovic are guards who are eager to attack the basket.
Wood is destined to become a fan favorite because of her heady, well-rounded game. She is comfortable handling the ball and shooting from outside, but also knows how to set up her teammates.
The team played unselfishly in the scrimmage, demonstrating the ability to make good in-game decisions that led to precise passes and high-percentage scoring chances.
Even though they have been playing together for only a couple of months, there is a visible element of overall poise and calm. They have already established good on-court chemistry.
This is a UMaine team that should be fun to watch as it continues to develop. There are bound to be growing pains, but it sure looks like the start of a bright chapter in the program’s history.
Black Bear fans won’t have many chances to see the team until America East play begins, but if you want to check them out, UMaine plays an exhibition game Thursday at 7:30 p.m. against New Brunswick.
It’s a whole new ballgame.