Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Mike Lowe email@example.com
ORONO - Eighteen days. Thirty planes. Ten countries.
Richard Barron, the University of Maine women’s basketball coach, asks for a referee’s help in deciphering a call in a game late last year in Orono. Going to Europe to recruit “was out of necessity more than anything,” the coach said.
2011 file photo/Michael C. York
Richard Barron, the University of Maine's women's basketball coach, was a busy man last spring. And with good reason.
His Black Bears returned only five players from a team that went 8-23. That was Maine's seventh consecutive losing season.
Barron, in his second season, needed to find players to fill the remaining two-thirds of the roster. Beyond that, he needed to find players who could step in and help turn the program around. And he had to do it fast.
So he went east.
As a result, nine freshmen -- including players from Serbia, Israel, Sweden, Finland, England and Germany -- will join the Black Bears this year. They are the bulk of a recruiting class that ranks among the best of the nation's 342 NCAA Division I women's programs: as high as 36th in the Blue Star Basketball report and 57th in Dan Olson's 2012 Collegiate Girls' Basketball Report.
"For them to have such high praise for this class certainly validates what we knew," said Barron. "This is a good group of kids."
How good remains to be seen. Barron noted that it takes a couple of years to get returns on your recruits. But the international players bring an edge that American high schoolers lack, and they could contribute as soon as this season.
"They're more mature, physical players," Barron said. "Here, when we look at high school kids, they're playing other high school kids. There, it's teenage girls against grown women, some as old as in their 30s. That's the way the club system is over there."
While the Black Bears have never had this many international players on their women's basketball team at once before, what Barron did is not unusual. International recruiting has been going on for years among NCAA schools.
According to NCAA figures, there were 193 non-resident alien (a non-U.S. citizen) female Division I basketball players in the 2010-11 academic year, along with 291 male basketball players. That was the first year the NCAA started categorizing athletes as non-resident aliens.
Including Divisions II and III, there were 510 male and 287 female non-resident alien basketball players in U.S. colleges that year.
Courtney Anderson, the former star at Leavitt Area High School in Turner, is the only Mainer on the Black Bears roster. The sophomore guard understands completely why Barron went this route.
"In all reality, you're not going to find nine Maine kids to come to school this year," she said. "If we were going to create a team this year, we needed people to come."
In addition, the player generally regarded as the best in the state last year, Alexa Coulombe of Catherine McAuley High School in Portland, had already committed to play at Boston College. That limited Barron's local recruiting options, leading him to look elsewhere.
"You know, it's not easy to build things slowly," he said. "When you've been on the bottom for a little while, it's very easy to stay in that spot. We needed an infusion of talent to change things."
WIDESPREAD PRACTICE AT UMAINE
Women's basketball isn't the only team on the Maine campus with international students.
The men's basketball team, which has been dipping its toe into international recruiting waters for the past decade, has six Europeans, two Canadians and a Bermudan.
The field hockey team has eight Canadians and three European freshmen. Coach Josette Babineau's team went 16-4 last year, but it had a large graduating class for the second consecutive year and she didn't want to lose any momentum for her program.
"The club level in Europe is very competitive," said Babineau. "If they are playing the top division, the caliber, the skill and the experience they have coming in is not really comparable to some of our incoming players, even from Canada or the United States, because they've been playing for such a long time, since such a young age."
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
UMaine women’s basketball coach Richard Barron says he recruited outside Maine because only five players were returning and he needed to find good players fast. Nine freshmen from other states and countries will join the team this year.
Photo by Michael C. York
click image to enlarge
Michal Assaf, a 5-6 guard from Ganei Tikva, Israel, is one of nine freshmen on the University of Maine women’s basketball team. Six are from overseas, and three are from other states.
click image to enlarge
Mikaela Gustafsson, a 6-foot-2 forward from Sodertalje, Sweden, is among the incoming freshmen at UMaine this fall. “We’ll have some depth,” says basketball Coach Richard Barron.