The Redemptive Rise of Billy Baron
Monday, February 24, 2014
It would be easy to understand if Billy Baron didn’t make it.
It would be easy to excuse a young man who never got to be “just a basketball player.” It would be easy to say that it’s unfair to grow up in little Rhody the son of the URI men’s basketball coach and the younger brother of arguably the best pure shooter ever to wear Keaney blue.
It would be easy to say that having to decide between following in his brother’s footsteps (and playing for his father) versus trailblazing a path of his own is a lot to ask of a young man who just wanted to play basketball.
It would be easy to say that after transferring twice and living through his father’s dismissal from URI, Billy Baron was served more than a college sophomore should have had to deal with as a student-athlete.
It would be easy to forgive him if he wasn’t named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, annually bestowed upon the best point guard in college hoops.
And yet, here he is.
“It was very gratifying seeing my name on that list with other great point guards,” Billy Baron says.
He’s the point guard at Canisius College now, a long cry from the Ryan Center he all but grew up in as a youngster. He’s averaging 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists per game this season as a senior, putting up the kind of all-around statistics that even his biggest supporters might have balked at as recently as 2 years ago.
He takes pride in being a point guard. The point guard runs the show. He touches the ball on every possession and is responsible for making 4 other players’ lives as easy as possible on the offensive end. The point guard is the floor general, the coach between the lines.
It’s only fitting that the coach’s son be that extension of the coaching staff. It’s only fitting that when Billy Baron hit a 3 pointer at the buzzer to beat Elon in the preseason NIT, Jim Baron snapped out of coach-mode to chase his son down for a congratulatory hug during the celebration.
They’ve been through a lot, father and son.
While Jim and Jimmy Baron were the King and Prince of Kingston for 4 years, one can only assume that while the journey for Jim and Billy may not have gone as smoothly, their road to redemption is an even more rewarding experience for father and son than one paved in Keaney blue.
For when Billy left Virginia after just one semester to return home and play for Jim at URI, the thought of the two of them winding up anywhere else was as far-fetched as anything that could have happened along the way.
“I never felt happy at Virginia despite the great relationships I developed,” Billy says.
He wanted to play for his Dad, and after sitting out a year per NCAA rules, he did. There was Billy Baron, point guard for the URI Rams, the way the Hollywood writers had mapped it all out.
He averaged 13 points per game that season, a respectable total for a sophomore who had missed 12 months of action leading into his first semester as a Ram. But URI struggled to a 7-24 record, and the program badly needed to hit the reset button and start from scratch.
Jim Baron was out, and Dan Hurley was in. Just months after coming home to play out the fairy tale, Billy Baron was at another crossroads in his young career.
Billy describes his relationship with Dan Hurley as a good one. Both men are point guards at heart, and they still talk to this day. But Billy Baron didn’t leave Virginia and come to URI to play for Dan Hurley. And so when Jim Baron landed on his feet with a fresh start at Canisius, Billy went with him.
Buffalo, New York is more than a stone’s throw from Kingston, but in 2 short years the Barons have found a new basketball home and quickly laid the foundation for the Golden Griffins program.
The Griffs are 19-10 this season, 13-5 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. They’ll be right in the thick of things when the conference tournament rolls around beginning March 6th. They’ll need to win the conference to qualify for the NCAA Tournament this season, something the program hasn’t done since 1996.
Whether the ride ends with an improbable Tournament appearance or somewhere else, it will have been a terrific story and a better experience for Jim and Billy Baron.
Often times when a father coaches his son in major college sports, friction can mount due to the increased scrutiny and exposure both individuals are face with. For Billy Baron, that scrutiny is precious, and he relishes these last moments in his tumultuous college career.
“I never get annoyed anymore with being the coach's son,” he says. “I’m trying to relish it and take it all in because after next month I'll never be referred to as ‘the coach's son’ again.”
Unlike many athletes in his position, Billy Baron welcomes all that comes with having a father and a brother in the business. He’s honored to be compared to his brother, looking to Jimmy as a role model for his work ethic and ability to make a career for himself overseas.
Billy Baron also plans on making his living playing basketball, and plans on working with fellow Hendricken alum and NBA super trainer Rob McClanaghan. McClanaghan has trained numerous NBA All-Stars, but he’s also worked for years to help Jimmy Baron develop his game and become a pro.
After breaking onto the national scene this season, Billy Baron is on the NBA's radar. He’s a more well-rounded player coming out of college than Jimmy was, and his ability to play the point certainly will help his chances. And when asked if there’s a chance for a Baron-Baron backcourt duo to one day surface either domestically or overseas, the younger Baron doesn’t hesitate.
“We would do anything to play with each other,” he says. “Our games complement each other's very well.”
He’s come a long way since his days at Hendricken, where he won 3 state championships and earned the right to choose is path in college basketball. And even if things haven’t always gone according to plan, the end result is that Billy Baron is finally comfortable and happy with his college experience. The results speak for themselves.
“The key to my success is knowing I’m not going anywhere else,” he says. “I never was able to get my feet wet at Rhode Island and I was focused at times on things I really couldn’t control.”
He’s improved with confidence every season, including developing a 3 point shooting stroke that has him putting up numbers Jimmy would be happy with (shooting 42% from 3 this season). But Billy points to his mental game as his biggest improvement, and now his biggest asset.
By their nature, point guards have thick skin. After his 4 year college experience, Billy Baron has callouses.
He’s moved, he’s adjusted, and he’s grown up along the way. The most important lesson he’s learned, in his words, is persistence. On and off the court, Billy Baron has learned how to pick himself up, dust himself off, and keep going.
It would be easy for him to have felt self-pity. It would be easy for him to feel slighted, especially after the short stint at URI and the effect it had on his family. It would have been easy to look back and have regrets.
Easy doesn’t make Billy Baron the best player on the court earlier this season at Notre Dame. Easy doesn’t make him a finalist for the Cousy Award. Easy doesn’t make him the man he is today.
“It's the tough moments that I learned to deal with adversity,” Billy Baron says. I wouldn’t trade anything in my college career because it made me a man I'm proud to be.”
It’s easy to share those sentiments.
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