Story of the year is missed opportunities, and Billy Baron knew it

By Nick Veronica, Editor-in-Chief

nick_veronica

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Biting his lip and holding back tears, Billy Baron stared into the distance while his dad answered questions about the team’s turnaround and potential success in the future.

Forget feel-good stories. Forget school-record improvements and the campus and the alumni. Billy Baron doesn’t care how many years it’s been since the Griffs were any good. He came to Canisius for one reason and one reason only, and that was to go to the NCAA Tournament.

The pieces were supposed to be in place. Jim Baron sold Billy on the idea that the returning players and the transfers had the potential to come together for a MAAC championship – if they had a star point guard to tie it all together.

It looked good from the start. Canisius beat local rivals Buffalo and St. Bonaventure to open the season and swept the first weekend of conference play. Then Canisius pulled off an upset of Temple. Oh, when they beat Temple. The MAAC title was theirs to lose, everyone said.

But Isaac Sosa cooled off after a blistering start to the year and was nonexistent Saturday in the tournament. Jordan Heath was good but not dominant and Freddy Asprilla never amounted to much.

The Griffs beat themselves as often as they were beaten outright, and whenever it came down to the wire, they were usually one big shot or one defensive stop behind, it seemed. Saturday was no different.

Iona’s star guard MoMo Jones, sick as a dog, sat in the press conference room after dominating the game and thanked his teammates for helping them advance. Billy Baron hardly responded to questions in his session, likely preoccupied by his own.

Was this worth it? Memories of Rhode Island and Virginia undoubtedly ran through his mind. Canisius ended up with the best shot of making the tournament this year out of the bunch, but opportunity means nothing now.

“That’s the reason why I’m here, to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Billy said early in the year and repeated regularly. “Only reason.”

Father and son, together in the NCAA Tournament. That’s what he wanted. The McDermotts. The McCallums. But not the Barons.

That’ll be hard to swallow for Billy, who takes winning as personally as defending the family name. It looked physically painful for him to sit in the press conference, facing the reality of a dream crashing prematurely.

There’s always next year in sports, but next year will require both Barons to do more with less. Billy will have to score more, pass better and work even harder. Jim will have even more teaching to do. If the Griffs were to catch magic, this year was the year to do it, and Billy looked like he knew it Saturday.

Harold Washington and Isaac Sosa, the team’s second and third leading scorers (and best three-point shooters) will be gone. Alshwan Hymes had a limited role this year but no one immediately jumps out as his successor. This year’s team was built on older players and the younger guys really didn’t see a lot of action.

Simply finishing with a winning record was a nice change for this program. But this is a results-based business. Nothing else ultimately matters, and if you don’t believe that, ask yourself how Canisius had a job opening for Baron in the first place.

The new coach and all the new players still ended with a quarterfinal loss, something the old coach could’ve done with less money and less ordeal. The team played losing basketball after its 8-2 start and Canisius didn’t end up any closer to a MAAC title or an NCAA bid.

I don’t fault Billy for being beside himself after the game. He seemed to be one of the only people who realized what just happened and what it really meant. I’m surprised more people aren’t upset with how this season ended up.

Billy has one more shot to try for a championship, and who knows what happens after that. Next year’s team will probably be somewhere in the middle of the pack, and judging from the roster, it’ll be a few years before Canisius has another team as loaded as this one was.

The story of the season will be that Jim Baron & Co. had a shot this year and couldn’t pull it off. If anyone wants to toast to higher attendance and not being in the play-in round, the sparkling grape juice is in Aisle 23 at Wegmans. I’ll be in the back room with the good stuff on ice, waiting until this team accomplishes something really meaningful.

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Comments

  1. RhodyFan says:

    This is the Jim Baron way. His “process” falls short of excellence as proven by his mediocre-at-best decade at Rhode Island. Billy’s BEST chance at experiencing the NCAA tournament was Dan Hurley was hired at URI. In his senior year at URI, Billy would have a good shot at playing in the postseason with NCAA within reach.

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