Each of us has a mentor, hero, role model, what ever you want to call it. A guy, gal, or mythical figure that is a source of inspiration. For Scipio it's Tom Petty or Hoyce Gracie, ssr50 has Bill Little, and Sailor Ripley thinks he's Rex Chapman. Hell, HenryJames still rocks the Cure's Robert Smith war paint at all ages shows. For me, that person, outside of my Grand Torino-esque father, is Robert "Montgomery" Hack, my high school basketball coach. I added the Montgomery middle name because it fits the mold of the famous Indiana Hoosier General. It's a good descriptor for how Coach Hack taught us vis a vis the actual General, and the impression it left on me as a young basketball player.
UIL rules allowed high school basketball teams three hours of basketball practice to teach the fundamental science of the game. On coach Hack's team, we spent half of that Marxist allocation on defensive slides. Ball-you-man defense? I have dreams about 4 man shell drills. I bump cutters in church league that make pastors cite scripture, and not in a good way. Coach Hack made me who I am as a man. His teaching of basketball principles and life principles, intentionally or unintentionally connected, has spilled over into every facet of my life. As Sailor Ripley would say, it has made me forged of a hotter fire, in my opinion. Like Dick Stockton doing an NBA game, Coach Hack's familiar voice is always in the back of my mind, narrating life's choices into neat hoops catch phrases like "do the little things that it takes to win basketball games". Yes coach, I pay off my credit cards on time. Too many Dos Equis? I call a cab. One of my boys need a bone marrow transplant? I call timeout and run that 1-2-2 zone we've worked on over Christmas break.
What does all of this have to do with Rick Barnes? Well, I suspect there are a hundred plus student athletes that have played basketball at the University of Texas for the last decade that feel the same way about Rick Barnes. Guys like Freddie Williams, Darren Kelley, and James Thomas probably draw on their experience playing for Coach Barnes before they go into that job interview, before they make that big speech in the auditorium, or before they step into the delivery room. Why? Because men like Rick Barnes leave an indelible mark on their players not just in the context of the game of basketball, but in the game of life. He's the reason why Kevin Durant spends one year in Austin and becomes a Texas homer on par with Rooster Andrews. Barnes the person is why guys like TJ Ford and LaMarcus Aldridge wanted to put Texas Basketball on the map in the first place. Hell, Rick's the reason guys like Avery Bradley, Jordan Hamilton, and
Nick Mr. Kabongo make sure the Horns stay there.
In case you were wondering what the muse for this article was, Rick Barnes won the 2009 John Wooden Legends of Coaching Award this past week. He can be seen here with great commentary from DeLoss Dodds and company as well as some lighthearted moments replete with a Kevin Durant hair mussing. To further illustrate Barnes' impeccable resume, Rick has taken our beloved Longhorns to the NCAA tournament in each and every one of his 11 seasons on the 40. Coming from an El Paso dude that had to rely on Jeep Jackson and Chris Blocker making UTEP's March Madness dreams come true growing up as a youngster, I'd have to admit this is a borderline spooky accomplishment for a coach of the University of by God Texas. As a 1996 graduate of the University, though, I have to say thank you for making basketball more than just an offseason football diversion. We're legit folks, and we owe it all to Barnesy.
Like KD? Thank Rick Barnes.
Is he the best coach in the nation? Maybe, maybe not. Who's ahead on your list? I've got Coach K, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Coach Self, Donovan, Calhoun, and Tom Izzo ahead of Rick at this point. If Rick gets a championship without NCAA sanctions I'd put him ahead of all but Williams, Pitino, and Coach K. But, next to Billy Donovan, Barnes is certainly the best basketball coach coaching at a football school. And certainly the best that Texas has rolled out in, I don't know, forever. And when it comes to nut cutting time in life for former players, I doubt I'd get any argument from any former Horns. They all love Rick. And as a fan of basketball, even if you grew up on motion offense and elaborate Peter Carril sets, you should love Barnes as well. Runnin' Horns. Pfff. Coach Barnes is gonna straight up guard your ass and keep it in the 60's.