The conversation originated from nothing specific. We were just two guys sitting in a gym in Las Vegas last month, watching AAU basketball, watching our cell phones, watching the clock to see how many more minutes -- measured by dunks and layups -- it would be until another long day was complete.
We talked recruiting.
We talked restaurants.
|John Calipari will have to get on the horn to find a new top assistant. (Getty Images)|
"What else do I have to do?" said the former Memphis assistant. "When am I going to get my shot?"
The answer: Sooner than he thought.
Tony Barbee is Texas-El Paso's new coach. That's relevant news for multiple reasons. I'll number them, one, two, three and four.
1. Bound by no color: Barbee becomes the first black basketball coach in UTEP history, something noteworthy considering this is the first school -- under the name Texas Western in 1966 -- to win a national title with five black starters. Maybe they'll make another movie (Glory Road II?) someday. Who would play Barbee? If he can act at all, it has to be poker pro Phil Ivey.
2. No thanks, Nolan: By settling on Barbee, UTEP, wisely, did not fall into the trap of hiring alum Nolan Richardson. Sure, it would've grabbed bigger headlines, but it would've also reeked of desperation, and UTEP isn't desperate. This is the second-best basketball school in Conference USA. What it needs is a stabilizer, someone who can continue what Billy Gillispie and Doc Sadler co-created. What it doesn't need is an aging legend with a pattern of kooky behavior (Seriously, how do you ask to be bought out of your contract, then sue Arkansas after it buys you out?).
3. Teacher vs. Student: John Calipari spent the past year explaining how he needs one C-USA program to rise to Memphis' level and be the Temple to his UMass. With a few good recruiting classes, Barbee could produce that at UTEP. And considering he played for and was mentored by Calipari, it's doubtful Barbee will ever threaten to kill him at a postgame press conference, a la John Chaney. The importance of that can't be overstated.
4. Patience is a virtue: Barbee's hiring shows patience pays off, and that the greatest opportunities can come at the strangest times. If there's a lesson of the day, that is it.
As recently as three weeks ago in Las Vegas, Barbee was a 35-year-old assistant at Memphis certain he'd one day be a 36-year-old assistant at Memphis, too. College coaches, after all, are typically fired and hired in March or April. If you don't land a new gig by then, you're probably stuck in your old gig. So when Barbee was passed over for the Murray State job after interviewing at the Final Four, he figured he had missed out again, just like the year before when UMass chose Travis Ford over one of its own.