Against the Grain
Recall Erick Barkley’s Big East dominance.
There is one thing about Barkley that Jarvis wouldn’t mind seeing change a bit, and that’s the third key part of the game for a guy who plays like a Randy Johnson fastball—hard and tight. In addition of the aggressive D and cerebral O, Barkley plays with an emotional streak that is occasionally over the top. Barkley has been know to yell at his teammates, even during games, which happened most notoriously late in the Johhnies’ heartbreaking midseason loss to No.1 Duke at Madison Square Garden.
“Erick is so big on motivating himself, but he’s still learning how to motivate others,” says Jarvis. “There’s a time and a place to show displeasure with your teammates, and Erick didn’t always choose the right ones, but we’re trying to hone in on those things.”
Occasional temper or not, Barkely is a great guy to have in charge, and he taught all who may have slept on him when SJU entered the ‘99 tourney as a No. 3 seed in the Southern Region. After thrashing Samford and embarrassing Bobby Knight’s Indiana squad, the Red Storm faced No. 2-seed Maryland in the Sweet 16. Led by EB’s 24 points, 9 assists and 2 steals, St. John’s obliterated Maryland and its allegedly-athletic attack 76-62. Although Barkley brushed it aside at the time, he conceded to me that the Maryland game was about mare than just staying alive in the tournament. “When I was being recruited, as much as I like St. John’s, Maryland was always my number one choice,” Barkley recalls with a smirk. “But their head coach [Gary Williams] never really got interested. He only spoke to me once, and then he left his recruiting up to his assistants. I didn’t like that.”
Wonder how many more sweat drops those thoughts produced on Williams; soggy dome as Barkley blew by Terrell Stokes all game.
With the T(w)erps in the rear-view mirror, St. John’s entered the round of eight finally being recognized as a premier team. And then it all ended. With Ohio State’s unknown big man Ken Johnson blocking shots like Dikembe and the Buckeyes’ backcourt playing large as usual, Ohio State vanquished the Red Storm 77-74. To most observers, Barkley was hardly at fault. He did cost SJU a final chance when he lost the ball off his leg with five seconds left, but that was his only TO of the game. It hardly overshadowed the sloppy mistakes that Artest made all evening. Barkley is not down with sharing the blame, however.
“Thinking about the game just creates a throbbing pain for me,” says Barkley. “I think that was the only game of the season where I got outplayed by an opposing point guard, so I’m going to feed off that and promise it won’t happen again.”
The opposing point guard, of course, was Scoonie Penn, and Barkley got a chance last summer to show he’s at least the player Penn is. Both were selected to play for the USA’s World University Games team in Spain, and while Penn started the job, Barkley finished it. After starting th tournaments first six games, Penn got a stomach virus and had to sit out the semifinal and championship game. No problem for the US, as Barkley responded with a masterful 10-assist, 1-turnover performance in the title game over Yugoslavia.
As he enters this season, Barkley’s precocious play is sure to create a Y2K problem for both his opponents and his own program. The opponents will have to deal with a point guard sure to defend as usual, and even score a little more with Artest gone, while Jarvis and the Johnnies’ have to cope with the fact that another sweet season in Queens could be Erick’s last.
“What Erick has done as a New York point guard staying at home to play is a special thing, but if he gets much better he’ll probably be leaving us,” Jarvis says. “I’m not going to hold him back, because what he needs to improve for the next level–a little more strength and some consistency on his outside shot—will help us here as well.”
As far as Barkley’s concerned, the dream he had as a five-year-old may be close to coming true, but don’t expect to see many changes from one of the nation’s most determined ballers. “I’m never going to slack off, that’s just the person I am. I’m always going to work hard, and I’m ready to accept whatever happens to me here and in the NBA.”