by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad
After months of searching, I finally caught up with Erick Barkley and found out what he has been up to since his playing days at St. John’s. After some tough times, I am happy to report that he’s doing just fine and has rediscovered his love of the game.
SLAM: You played on such great teams at St. John’s, what it was like being a hometown kid and playing for St. John’s?
Erick Barkley: Aw man, it was a great experience. Just to play at home in front of friends and family, it was a great thing at that time. We were a good team but we didn’t get the respect we deserved. People didn’t respect us the way we should have been, but we went pretty far being that we didn’t have a big guy. It was a great run we had, and I wouldn’t wish for nothing better than what we did.
SLAM: Did you feel any extra pressure, being from New York and playing for St. John’s and going deep into the Tournament… Did it ever get to you?
EB: Nah, I never felt any pressure. I just focused on whoever we played next, that’s who I was locked in on. Just like when I was on court, I never really heard the fans that much. God gave me a gift to tune things out.
SLAM: After college, you were drafted by Portland, then bounced around a little bit. What happened there?
EB: I went first round, 28th pick to the Trail Blazers, which was both a gift and a curse. The gift is, you receive the wealth, but with the wealth also comes a lot of problems that I wasn’t ready for at the time. The basketball, it was good, but I wasn’t playing. At the time, I was coming from a great program and I was young—I just wanted to play. But to take a backseat like that on a veteran team, which is understandable now, but at the time I wanted to play. I learned with the veterans that were there, I learned a lot, but I just wanted to play. I guess the coaches (Mike Dunleavy and Mo Cheeks) didn’t have me in their plans yet. I guess I had to leave, and after that everything just went downhill for me, man. San Antonio got rid of me. Went to Europe, and when I was in Europe, it was just hell [laughs]. It was just hell when I went to Europe.
SLAM: What happened out there?
EB: Just not getting paid the money I thought I deserved…My numbers were solid out there.
SLAM: [Interrupting] I always felt like you never got a fair shot. You were a great on-ball defensive player and a cerebral offensive player, I thought you could have been a great floor general. I guess it just wasn’t your time…
EB: I can’t call it, man… I thought I could have been a good asset with either Portland or San Antonio. I think I was playing pretty well, I was holding my own against the vets in practice. I really don’t know what happened, I guess I just didn’t fit the coaches’ plans. Maybe it was the money.
SLAM: I cut you off before, but you were talking about Europe…
EB: Oh man [laughs]. Europe was just hell. First year in Europe after the NBA, I was out in Greece and I got caught with some marijuana, well not really caught—but had weed in my possession, and the Greek League got rid of me. From there, I went back and forth around Europe being underpaid or not paid at all, but still performing at a high level. What was I to do, though? I didn’t really have an agent—my representative was a cool dude, but he didn’t really know how to handle my situation.
SLAM: From Europe you went on to Canada right?
EB: Yeah, that was really the start of my coaching career there. I played when the owner asked me to play, but I was basically just a coach up there.
SLAM: So you were a player-coach?
EB: Yes [laughs].
SLAM: Is that something you had planned, or did you just fall into it?
EB: I fell into it after I was invited there to come play. I just felt a change in my body, I knew that I couldn’t play at the level that I wanted to anymore. I had a lot of injuries, my hips don’t move—not like they used to when I was younger, I’m a lot slower. I just can’t strike or make the cuts like I used to make, it’s painful. The owner asked me if I ever thought about coaching, he gave me a shot… I fell in love with it.
SLAM: You fell in love with it, you said?
EB: Yeah, now I’m coaching at my old high school at Christ the King (in Queens, NY).
SLAM: How did you fall into that position?
EB: I took the summer off just to think if I wanted to put my body through and still play—which I can still do, I can still get out there and play. But just the pain, you know, it’s a lot of pain. I didn’t get proper treatment in Europe. In Europe they expect you to perform in practice just the same as in games. Even though practice is very important, I agree, but there’s just no way you can perform at that level in games and practice. It’s just impossible for a full season.
SLAM: What was the transition from playing to coaching like? Was it easy or do you miss being out on the court?
EB: It’s hard, oh man it’s hard [laughs]. At Christ The King yesterday was our first regular-season game… during scrimmages I was kind of laid back, laid back. Everything is for the marbles now, things get serious. A couple of the other coaches noticed that. They seen it in my face that I wanted to get out there and play [laughs]. They came over and said something and I just laughed.
SLAM: Do you prefer coaching to playing? Is it something that you can see yourself doing as a possible career now?
EB: Yeah, definitely. I can definitely make this a career; coaching. It’s a fun thing to do—teaching. Just getting the kid’s attention and having them lock into your every word you’re saying, and just getting out there and participating in drills and showing them the proper way to play. It helps me now, after going through what I went through in the NBA and overseas, it’s got me loving basketball again.
SLAM: Would you say you found your calling, and coaching is what you were meant to do?
EB: Yeah, I think so. I think so. I think this is my gift.