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.

16 May

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

Jim Barnes

BY DARREN IVY

Legendary Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins was at a small high school in Headley, Okla., when he first heard about Jim “Bad News” Barnes. Barnes was a junior at Stillwater (Okla.) High School and his team was facing mighty Pampa, Texas, which had won a number of state titles in a row, Haskins said.

“I heard the score was 94-40,” Haskins said. “I figured Stillwater had met its match. I could-n’t believe it when they told me Stillwater had won. That was long before I knew I’d be recruiting him.” Three years later, Jim Barnes put Haskins’ Texas Western program on the map. The Tuckerman native then starred on the 1964 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team before being selected as the No. 1 pick in the 1964 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. “There’s not been another No. 1 pick from Arkansas,” said former Arkansas Razorbacks Coach Nolan Richardson, a teammate of Barnes at Texas Western. [Au contraire, Nolan. There has been another—Joe Barry Carroll.] “He has to be one of the best to ever come out of the state.”

Recruitment of Jim Barnes, now 61, began much earlier than college. Barnes, who has suffered three strokes and three heart attacks in the past few years, doesn’t remember the exact dates he played at each school, but he is fairly certain he started playing varsity basketball in seventh grade at his hometown black high school in Tuckerman. His journey to basketball stardom began even before that.

THE ODYSSEY BEGINS 

Barnes was always the tallest student in his class, said McKinley Newton, former Tuckerman principal. His height might have come from his mother’s side, where his grandfather was 7 feet tall. But hoop dreams were not always Barnes’ aspiration, despite his height. “I was in love with baseball because that was the only sport I knew about,” said Barnes, who lives in Washington.

“Bernice Newton was the cornerstone behind me learning to love basketball. During recess, she made sure we had the semblance of a basketball in our hands.” Barnes learned the game fast, but not as fast as his body was growing, Newton said. “His feet were always getting tangled up,” Newton said. At 13, Barnes was an imposing 6-6 giant, who looked and played like someone much older, Newton said. Barnes helped Tuckerman upset rival Branch High School of Newport, which had dominated the series before Barnes arrived.

His family was so poor and his feet so large that Barnes couldn’t afford shoes for his size 13 feet and played in his socks. Branch Coach Norman Calhoun used this to his ad-vantage to get Barnes to transfer to his school. “He told my mother that he would make sure I had shoes and was fed,” Jim Barnes said. “I had never had a pair of basketball shoes before that.” Off he went to Branch High School, which was 12 miles away. By this time, Barnes was either in eighth or ninth grade, and he had grown to 6-7. “Teammates called me ‘Big Stoop’ because I had stoop over so I didn’t hit my head,” Barnes said. “Others called me ‘High Pockets’ because my rear end was so big.”

Barnes helped Newport finish third in the 1957 black state basketball tournament behind North Little Rock [Scipio] Jones and Merrill High School of Pine Bluff. He made the all-tournament team as a freshman. “He was moved up to varsity because of his size and ability,” said Richard “Deer” Smith, who graduated in 1957 and later played basketball at Arkansas Baptist College. “Newport always had an abundance of athletes, so Jim developed his skills from his surroundings.” The next year Barnes was on the move again; this time to an integrated school in Poplar Bluff, Mo., a team Branch defeated the previous year. Barnes caught the eye of the Poplar Bluff coach. “The coach told people I had [to] come there because I was his cousin,” Barnes said.

“Of course, we weren’t related.” Several complaints to the commissioner of the Missouri State High School Activities Association led to an investigation, and Barnes was ruled ineligible. “He told me not to return until I was ready for the pros,” Jim Barnes said. “I was dejected and returned to Tuckerman.”


This is Part 1 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 2 here. Sadly, this wonderful, valuable piece of public history is out of print and will not be re-published 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.