ORONO – Corinne Wellington’s bags were all but packed. She wanted to check out of the University of Maine. Her dreams weren’t coming true.

Leave, she told herself. Go home to the bleak inner city that is Rochester, N.Y., and try to imagine a new future. Playing basketball had been her ticket to an education. But as last fall turned into winter, she wondered where this ride was taking her.

If anywhere. Wellington talked with Richard Barron, her new coach at Maine and the man she was trying to understand.

“He asked me to give him one good reason why I shouldn’t stay,” Wellington said Wednesday. “I thought about it. I couldn’t.”

The 21-year-old woman stood alone on media day for Maine’s basketball teams. Elsewhere in the old Memorial Gym, my colleagues talked up the new faces. The nine freshmen are hope for better days for a program that has suffered through seven straight losing seasons.

In her mind, Wellington unpacked her bags after listening to Barron. Now she’s the lone senior on the women’s team. The last of five freshmen recruited by Cindy Blodgett to start the 2009-10 season.

Katelyn Vanderhoff left the next year. She’s now a senior at Messiah College, a Division III school in Pennsylvania. Shareka Maner was the next to leave. She’s a junior at Henderson State, a Division II school in Arkansas.

Rachele Burns and Amber Smith are still at Maine but as student assistant coaches. Injuries ended their careers.

Wellington, the 6-foot-2 forward, is the lone survivor. As a freshman she was shy and quiet to the point of being silent. She started 21 games that first season but only eight the next, which was Blodgett’s last.

On the court, Wellington showed flashes of talent, scoring and rebounding in double figures. Off the court she was the introvert, her face usually buried in a book on trips. To some she was a closed book.

When Barron arrived last year, Wellington didn’t know if she fit. Barron had different ideas, different standards. What Wellington didn’t understand at first was Barron’s core principle of how he judges players.

Simply, winners are players who look at their performance and resolve to get better. Losers judge themselves by those around them. If a player’s effort is no worse than others on the team, then what’s the problem?

“There’s nothing worse than not realizing your potential,” said Wellington. “I wasn’t doing that. Coach asked me to commit to what he was doing. I needed to start. I had been playing for myself. I started to play for my teammates.”

She started only eight games last season but played in all 31. She had 10 rebounds in 35 minutes against Boston University. She scored 14 against Vermont. Had nine points and 11 rebounds at Albany.

Wellington’s grandmother has been her primary influence. Her grandmother has not seen Wellington play in college. She couldn’t make the trip to Albany or Binghamton.

“I’m trying to get her to come (to Orono) for Senior Day. She’s been the one back home encouraging me to stay and graduate.”

Barron won’t accept credit for a transformation that’s evident. “A coach can only point out what he sees. The player does all the work.”

Wellington spent much of her summer in Orono and in the gym, working on her game and her strength. She’s added muscle to her lean frame. She’s still quiet but no longer silent. “I’m still working on that. I don’t know if I’ll ever talk a lot but as the senior, I can be the leader.”

She was a National Honor Society member in high school, but it’s doubtful last year she could imagine herself in a role of leadership. All it took was a coach who saw her as a person first and a player second.

No one is saying she can be an America East all-conference player, but who will say she can’t? Barron will give Wellington the opportunity to earn more playing time. There are no promises.

“We worked last year on improving,” said Barron. “A lot of the improvement was under the surface. We’ll see. Corinne has more confidence and more self-esteem, and that can make a player better.”

Fans were invited to the team’s first practice two weeks ago. The players were introduced one by one. Wellington threw a few dance moves into her walk to the center of the court, surprising those who remember the very quiet freshman.

“That was Coach,” said Wellington, grinning. “He showed me.”

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

ssolloway@pressherald.com

Twitter: SteveSolloway