Purdue University has a young team with four sophomores and four freshmen on a 12-player roster. Before its rugged Big Ten schedule, the coach needed to find her team some solid competition in a good environment.

Sharon Versyp knew where to go.

“Maine knows how to put on a tournament,” she said. “The people are amazing. The crowds are amazing. It’s going to be a good tournament.”

She knows from experience. Versyp, 50, coached the University of Maine women’s basketball team for five seasons, from 2000 to 2005.

Versyp returns to Maine for the first time to lead her team into Maine’s Tip-Off Tournament at Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. The Black Bears play Purdue at 5 p.m. on Friday, followed by Mississippi State against Villanova.

The winners and losers face each other Saturday. Purdue plays the 5 p.m. game; Maine will play the second game.


Maine was Versyp’s first head coaching job. She arrived when the Black Bears’ program was at the end of its apex, following six straight NCAA tourney bids.

“I remember how much people cared about women’s basketball,” Versyp said.

Versyp faced two rebuilding years in Orono, followed by three straight America East regular-season titles, including the 2003-04 team that won the league tournament and reached the NCAAs – the last time the Black Bears have been there.

Versyp left after the next season for Indiana University. That stop lasted one season when the head job opened up at Purdue, her alma mater.

In 10 years at Purdue, she is 214-120 with four Big 10 championships and eight NCAA tournament bids.

Twice her team was one game from the Final Four.


When Versyp left Maine, the Black Bears were in need of rebuilding again. The next two coaches, including former All-American Cindy Blodgett, could not revive the program. Richard Barron took over in 2011 and eventually built a winner, reaching the America East title game last year.

“Richard is doing a great job,” Versyp said.

The Tip-Off Tournament is an example of Barron’s work. Back when Joanne P. McCallie, and then Versyp, coached the Black Bears, Maine hosted a Thanksgiving weekend tournament featuring high-profile teams. Coaches liked the competition and atmosphere at Alfond Arena in Orono, Maine’s home until 2013.

As the program declined, so did excitement for the tournament, which wasn’t held last year.

Barron wanted to bring back a tournament for a couple of reasons – the chance to host a premier event with top national competition, and to add home games to the schedule. After this tournament the Black Bears have only two more home games on their nonconference schedule.

“We’ve had a hard time scheduling New England teams,” Barron said. “They don’t want to come up.


“(The tournament) is a chance to play even better teams, higher-profile teams. That’s far better.”

Barron reached out to the coaches.

“We try to tell them we’re going to provide you with a very good environment that’s going to test your team,” Barron said.

Of course, Maine is also looking for a test, especially to season its young team, with one returning starter. The Black Bears were 26-9 last winter.

Purdue returns four of its top five scorers, from a 20-12 team. The Boilermakers are led by 5-foot-9 guard Ashley Morrissette and 6-2 forward Bridget Perry, the only two seniors on the roster.

Mississippi State (28-8) and Villanova (20-12) are also coming off strong seasons.

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