Four years is a long time.
Four years ago, LeBron James had yet to play a game for the Heat. The first iPad was just seven months old. But most importantly, Alyssa Baron had yet to play her first game for the Quakers.
A precocious teenager who had a knack of getting to the basket, she would cross over defenders, drain turn-around jump shots and flat-out score.
“In the first half, I just kept taking it strong to the basket,” Baron told The Daily Pennsylvanian after her Penn debut three years ago next Tuesday. “I knew the defenders couldn’t cover me as well as they should have been able to.”
Well, defenders still can’t cover her. That much is true, and she has proved that time and time again. She’s already scored 1,373 points in her college career, good for fourth-best in program history.
But if you look at all the points that Baron has scored over the course of her career, they pale in comparison to how she has helped turn Penn women’s basketball around.
“She doesn’t need a great deal of motivation, because she’s a basketball player that loves to play,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “But I think she’s seen this team add some depth over the last couple years, and I think she’s excited for that. I don’t think it matters to Alyssa if she scores 15 a game or eight a game as long as we find a way to win.”
The year before Baron arrived on campus, Penn went 2-26, one of the most difficult years in the program’s history. But in McLaughlin’s first recruiting class, he brought in Baron, who had torched Miami-area hoops in high school.
As Baron has progressed, she has taken on more of a leadership role in order to put her team in the best position to win.
“Definitely my leadership has grown, and being a captain for the second time this year, [I have] definitely stepped up in the leadership aspect,” Baron said. “Especially as a freshman, I was pretty quiet and doing my own thing on the court, and now I’m looked up to by all the younger girls. I’m a role model for them, and hopefully they’ll be able to do the things I’ve done.”
As McLaughlin and Baron have helped cultivate this program, they have learned to understand each other, each making the other better off.
“She sometimes looks at me — when I try to coach her and correct her — and stares right through me at times, and I’ve learned to understand what she’s about when she’s in that competitive mode and determined. She only sees what’s directly in front of her,” McLaughlin said.
“I’ve learned to understand what she’s thinking, and I know one thing she wants to do is leave this program in very good hands and definitely give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games.”
It has been a four-year relationship with highs and lows, from a devastating loss to Harvard on Senior Night two years ago to the miraculous step-back buzzer-beating three in the second round of the Women’s Basketball Invitational last year. This relationship has almost seen it all.
And as they begin the last chapter together, Baron is fronting a Penn team with its best chance to win an Ivy championship since 2004.
“I guess senior year is the last time around, just want to have a great year,” Baron said. “I’m looking forward to spending the time with my teammates, getting started with the season, winning a lot of games.
“We’ll get a lot of fans this year because we’ve been building up the last four years, and I think this year is finally the year we’re going to do big things.”
Four years later, all Baron sees is an Ivy title in sight.