Saturday, May 18, 2013
You plan a get-together, a party. Ask a few friends off your A-list to come to keep the conversation going. Send out the invitations. You're excited as you wait for the responses and the buzz.
Richard Barron, the University of Maine women's basketball coach, did all of that and wondered. By early Tuesday, only several dozen people said they would attend the Women's Basketball Coaches Clinic and Golf Classic this Sunday and Monday in Orono, and about a quarter of them are from out of state.
Did the word not get out?
Theresa Grentz is coming to teach and talk about basketball. So is Van Chancellor. Both are rock star coaches. Both coached women's U.S. Olympic teams, Grentz's team winning a bronze medal in 1992 and Chancellor's team a gold in 2004.
Grentz even had part of her story retold in a movie last summer. Maybe you saw the independent film, "Mighty Macs," about the three-time national championship basketball team at tiny Immaculata College in the 1970s, when Title IX was very new and players wore skirts.
Grentz played center and was the team leader. In the movie, she and her real-life teammates reunite to portray nuns in an early scene in a church. She most recently coached at Illinois, and before that was at Rutgers and St. Joseph's.
Chancellor's national and Olympic teams in 2002 and 2004 were never beaten in international competition. That's a 38-0 record. For 10 years he coached the Houston Comets of the WNBA and was at Louisiana State until stepping down recently.
They are friends of the much younger Barron. He asked and they said yes, they would come to this outpost of basketball.
"They have a generous duty to grow the game," Barron said Tuesday. "It's showing solidarity with all coaches. They're our mentors."
Ganon Baker, a skill instructor and trainer to a number of NBA and WNBA all-stars, including LeBron James, is coming. Dick Whitmore, the former Colby College coach, will speak. So will Ted Woodward, the Maine men's coach and his staff.
There will be chances to mingle at the clinic and rub elbows, pick brains and tell stories afterward in a social setting. Monday there's a round of golf.
The clinic isn't age or even gender specific. Basketball is basketball.
Yes, Barron has other motives. His challenge is to raise the profile of his women's program. Last season's handful of wins and the team's work ethic got attention. But not enough. No one will be satisfied until the Maine women return to the NCAA tournament.
In the meantime, Barron plans and works and builds. His recruitment of an international roster has raised eyebrows. Some see it as a jumpstart to success. Others wonder how much emotion they can invest in a team of women from so far away. Winning should answer that.
This weekend's event is supposed to be a win-win for Barron and Maine basketball. Then Barron looked at the registration numbers. Did he do something wrong?
Or did he run head-on into a Maine basketball culture that hasn't yet reordered its priorities. On a late summer weekend, some coaches have other things to do. Mike Murphy, the successful Deering High girls' basketball coach, is also a high school golf coach this time of year. He loves what Barron is doing.
But Murphy looked at his life, considered the two-hour drive to Orono and realized his weekend was already full. I can't tell you how many other coaches made similar decisions.
This is what Barron faces. You may think he's shoveling sand against the tide. He doesn't. He'll just shovel faster.
Last spring, when he first proposed the idea of a clinic with big-time names, assistant coach Amy Vachon remembers her reaction.
"I was taken aback. He kept saying these names, names you've heard forever. They're icons in the sport. If he got them to come I thought that would be amazing. I can't wait to talk to (Grentz). I don't think people in Maine understand."
The Joanne McCallie-Cindy Blodgett era at Maine from 1994-98 as head coach and star player was a long time ago. Maine women's basketball could walk with the sport's giants then. That time and the years that followed under Coach Sharon Versyp, now at Purdue, was too short.
Later Tuesday afternoon, the mood brightened in the basketball offices. Six more coaches added their names to the guest list. Mainers are accustomed to walking into Portland Sea Dogs or Portland Pirates games five or even 15 minutes after they start.
Barron can hope.
Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org