|The Barons are getting a fresh start in a new league. (US Presswire)|
When Billy Baron returned from Buffalo this past summer, on a visit to see his family, he watched his father's new team play pickup. He came back raving about the group and strongly considering leaving Rhode Island, where his father was fired months earlier, to play for Cansius' Golden Griffins.
This was a team that won only five total games last season -- one in league play. How much talent could Canisius truly have?
Baron wrestled with the idea. His father was trying to re-recruit his youngest son to come with him from URI to Canisius. Former Rhode Island star Jimmy Baron, who is now playing overseas, was also behind the decision for his kid brother to thrive at the mid-major level under his dad. Baron wound up taking a visit to Purdue and ultimately opting to play for his father over Matt Painter in the Big Ten.
"My brother was a big part in me coming here," Billy said. "He told me that it doesn't matter what level you play at anymore. They will find you if you play well."
Billy has helped get his dad's new program off to its first 6-1 start since 1973-74. He's ecstatic with his role -- and most of all, winning games again. URI won only seven times last season. Canisius has won its first two MAAC games for the first time since 1997-98. The Golden Griffs ended their nine-game losing streak against Fairfield last week and also snapped the program's 12-game MAAC losing streak. The Barons also have sold out the Koessler Athletic Center for home contests against St. Bonaventure and Buffalo, the first back-to-back sellouts in more than 15 years.
Baron is averaging 17.7 points, 6 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game so far this season and is coming off a near triple-double in a victory Sunday at Marist with 16 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He ranks in the top five in the MAAC in six statistical categories.
"It would have been easy for me to go to Purdue," Baron said. "But after seeing the talent here, I knew we could be sneaky good."
Baron has been terrific, but he has had help. Senior guard Harold Washington went for 25 against Marist, leads the team in scoring at 18.6 points per game and is shooting 56 percent from beyond the arc. Junior big man Jordan Heath, who transferred from NAIA Roberts Wesleyan, leads the MAAC in blocks and is scoring 10 points per game. Central Florida transfer Isaac Sosa gives Canisius another long-range threat, and Chris Manhertz is coming off a career-high 18 boards in the victory against Marist.
Next up for Baron & Co. is the Syracuse Orange on Saturday at the Carrier Dome.
"We're not looking to just go in there, play them close and lose," he said. "We're a veteran team, and we're not going to be intimidated."
Baron wanted to stay at URI even after his father was let go, but it became just too difficult emotionally. The second chance for father and son has been one that the younger Baron appreciates, especially since he's on his third school (he spent a semester at Virginia).
"I've been waiting for this, and to do it with my dad has been unbelievable," Billy said. "Especially after what he went through."
"If we make the NCAA tournament," he added, "no one in the world would be happier."
Except for maybe his dad.