A League of His Own

BUFFALO, NY - Billy Baron ’14 is the very picture of the All-American boy, given his All-American good looks and All-American work ethic. And now he has the paperwork to certify what is plain for all to see.

Baron is a bona fide All America.

He was named to the Associated Press’ All America team after his stellar second season at Canisius, when he was the nation’s fourth-leading scorer at 24.1 points per game. Just 55 players each year achieve All America status — five each on the first, second and third teams plus 40 honorable mentions, where Baron was chosen.

He joins just three other All Americas in Canisius men’s basketball history: Johnny McCarthy ’56, honorable mention in 1955-56, when he willed Canisius to within a whisper of the 1956 Final Four; Larry Fogle, second team in 1973-74, when he led the nation in scoring with 33.4 points per game; and Ray Hall ’85, honorable mention in 1984-85, when he finished as Canisius’ all-time career scoring leader with 2,226 points.

“Pretty good company right there,” Baron says. “I have heard so many great things about all of those great names that it is a privilege and an honor to be mentioned with them.”

That’s vintage Baron. He always says the right things. He’ll tell you he’d trade 1,000 individual awards — player of the year in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, finalist for the Bob Cousy Award for the nation’s best point guard, even All America — all for a victory in the finals of the MAAC tournament, which comes with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Canisius didn’t reach that Holy Grail in Baron’s two years here but he’ll be fondly remembered as one of the greatest players in the school’s history and for helping to turn around a stalled program. The Griffs won just five games the year before Canisius hired Billy’s father, Jim, as coach — and they won 20 last season and 21 this season, a new golden age of the Golden Griffins.

Billy’s senior season was wildly successful — top 20 nationally in 10 statistical categories — and he graduated in May with a degree in marketing, which will come in handy as he markets himself to the NBA. His long-range shooting skills and aptitude for the intricacies of the pick-and-roll give him a real chance at realizing his NBA dream. If not, he is a sure bet for a career in Europe, where his brother, Jimmy, makes big money as a shooting guard, most recently in Rome.

Jimmy played for their father at the University of Rhode Island (URI), where Jimmy is the Atlantic 10’s all-time three-point scorer. Billy’s unusual road to Canisius begins in Rhode Island, where he had a sterling career at Bishop Hendricken High School. Next he played a year of prep basketball at Worcester Academy in Massachusetts before landing at the University of Virginia (UVA).

UVA seemed like a good fit for Baron. He scored 19 points against William & Mary in his first game for the Cavaliers but Billy’s heart was at home, where his father was coaching the URI Rams, and he transferred after just one semester.

Billy is ever the good son. His father’s job was in jeopardy and he came home to help save it, though he couldn’t play until the next season’s second semester because NCAA rules require transfer players to sit out a year. The Rams won just seven games and Jim was fired after 11 strong seasons there. Father and son shared bitter tears. Each felt as if he had let the other down.

That’s when Canisius came calling. Jim, who played at St. Bonaventure in the 1970s, knew all about his old Little Three rival and happily shuffled off to Buffalo. The decision for Billy was harder. When his mother, Cindy, had open heart surgery weeks later, he longed to stay nearby. She is an accomplished landscape painter (CindyBaron.com) with an established studio in Rhode Island.

Billy had offers from Providence and Purdue, and he wouldn’t have to sit out a year, as the NCAA typically offers waivers to sons who played for fired fathers. He leaned toward Providence so he could be with his mother but he also felt a strong pull to play for his father. The good son was torn. “Deciding what to do was hard for Billy,” his mother says. “It was hard for all of us.”

The turning point came when Jimmy weighed in from overseas, urging Billy to follow his father. “I told Billy, ‘You wanted to come from Virginia to play for Dad, not play for Rhode Island,” Jimmy says. “That’s the same decision I made to play for him, no matter where he would have been at.”

Billy flourished under his father’s tutelage at Canisius. “He pushed me more than anyone else could ever do,” Billy says. “I told him how good I want to be and he never let up on me, which is exactly what I wanted. You can’t ask for more than a coach who knows your game and believes in you and puts you in a position to succeed.”

When Billy arrived at Canisius, he was the new kid on the C-Block, just as he’d been a newbie at UVA and URI.

“It was difficult at first,” he says. “My third school, away from home, out of my comfort zone. But from the moment I stepped on campus, everyone was so welcoming. My teammates, my professors, the friends I made. I feel like I grew up here, matured here, became the man I am today here. This is my school and I’ll always love Canisius.”

His school will always love him back. Billy’s two golden seasons included a 6-2 record against Big Four rivals Niagara, St. Bona and University at Buffalo plus an upset victory at Temple and a three-OT win at Siena when Billy played all 55 minutes and scored a career-high 40 points.

Baron left it all on the floor — blood (four stitches in a win against Niagara), sweat (39 minutes played per game, second-most in the nation) and tears (after a stinging MAAC tournament loss to Iona).

Senior Day offered a fitting tableau. Billy walked to center court at the Koessler Athletic Center flanked by his father and mother, who carried a phone turned to FaceTime so Jimmy could join them from Rome. That picture is worth 1,000 words — and 1,716 points. Billy had come to the right place. Home is where the court is.

Story by Erik Brady '76