29 May

Jim Barnes: The First NBA Arkansan No. 1 Draft Pick (Part 2)

BY DARREN IVY

Back to stocking feet

The shoes Barnes had received from Calhoun two years earlier no longer fit as his feet grew to size 17. Barnes said he was back to playing in his socks. Newton was happy to have Barnes back at his school, but it wouldn’t last long. During a game with a team from Vanndale, Jim Barnes scored 64 points and had 38 rebounds.

“Neither team had uniforms,” Barnes said. “They all were wearing bib overalls and I had on jeans. We were playing outside on a dirt court with lines that were marked in lime. The baskets were two telephone poles with a rim and backboard nailed to it.” Barnes’ performance drew a one-line write-up in the local paper, which just happened to be read by traveling insurance agent Dan Toma, who was also a recruiter for Stillwater High School Coach “Red” Loper.

“He wanted to see the phenomenon,” Jim Barnes said. “He visited our house, and we played some one-on-one.” By the end of the day, Toma had convinced Barnes to transfer to Stillwater. Jobs were arranged for Barnes’ mother and stepfather, J.L. Person, and a home was provided.

It is not known exactly when Barnes moved, but he didn’t suit up at Stillwater High School until his junior season, Haskins said. “I was glad to be out because I thought I would have a better opportunity at an integrated school,” Barnes said. “In Tuckerman, I spent all my free time picking and chopping cotton.”

Barnes, 6-8, 220, played the entire regular season before the Oklahoma Activities Association intervened. They discovered he had been recruited illegally and ruled him ineligible for one year, Haskins said.

Stillwater claimed the state boys basketball title despite the loss of Barnes.

While ineligible the first part of his senior season, Barnes played pickup games with the Oklahoma State players to stay in shape until he became eligible for district play. “The [Stillwater] team had won like one game during the year before that, but when Jim came back they didn’t lose and won another state title,” Haskins said.

Out of Stillwater

Oklahoma State basketball Coach Henry Iba figured he had a lock on Barnes since he had been scrimmaging with his team. Jim Barnes dropped a bombshell when he opted to attend Cameron Junior College in Lawton, Okla., instead.

“They were mad,” Barnes said of Iba and his staff. “I just didn’t think academically I had the foundation to make it at a big college.”

Jim Barnes averaged 29.8 points per game and shot 64.7 percent from the floor in his two years at Cameron. He scored a high of 50 points against the Oklahoma City freshman team and 40 or more on four other occasions. He broke all the school records and got on track academically.

Haskins on the prowl

Numerous coaches made the trek to Lawton to see Barnes play. None were more often than Haskins, who was just in his second season at Texas Western in 1962. “I came in on Aug. 3, [1961] and the team was pretty well set,” Haskins said. “The next year I spent all my time after one guy — Jim Barnes.

“I spent my entire $5,000 recruiting budget putting gas in my old car and driving to Lawton and feeding Jim. He didn’t eat just one steak, he ate two. [Texas West-ern Athletic Director] George McCarty told me I was crazy, putting all my eggs in one basket.” It worked. Barnes said Haskins and [Nolan] Richardson, then a junior, won him over with their persistence and honesty.


This was Part 2 of an article entitled “Jim ‘Bad News’ Barnes: ‘Bad News’ stopped the presses” which originally published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Untold Stories: Black Sports Heroes Before Integration. Read Part 1 here.

Plenty more from this chapter is available for those who pay primo for the book online or get a rare copy at a library. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be considered for republication unless sufficient demand is proven, I’ve been told by Democrat-Gazette brass.

To that end, I’m gathering a petition of those who want to see this book back in print, perhaps as a more affordable softcover or e-book. If you want to join the petition, email me at info@heritageofsports.com or leave a comment below.