More Than A Game

If you have ever watched Rod Barnes walk across a room, you might find it hard to believe that he was not only an All-SEC basketball player but one of the best point guards in Ole Miss history.

Years of wear and tear on his knees and ankles have caused him to walk with a slight limp. When I arrived at Ole Miss in the fall of 1995 and heard the stories about Coach Barnes as a player, and frankly, I thought the same thing. It was not until sometime late in my freshman year that Coach Barnes made a believer out of me.

I can't remember exactly who on our team was out with injuries but our numbers were low and we actually didn't have enough to go through 5 on 5 drills. All of the players were excited because we thought practice might be a little easier with the depleted numbers. As we were talking about this possibility, we look over toward the tunnel area and out walks Coach Barnes and Coach Russ Pennell in full practice gear.

Now as you can probably imagine, we as hot shot 18-22 year old kids began to chuckle a bit. We thought it was a joke but as I stated earlier it only took a few minutes to realize that this was for real. After warming up (and watching both coaches drain shot after shot) we got into our normal routine. Not only did Coach Barnes play well in practice that day, he told us about it each step of the way (without question one of the most subtle yet effective trash talkers I have ever been around).

Rod Barnes
Bruce Newman

Obviously a step (or two) slower than his playing days at Ole Miss, Coach Barnes still showed what made him a great player. He understood how to play the game, what our weaknesses were, and how to exploit them.

I learned a lot that day and the days to follow. I learned that it is not always about physical ability and that the mental side of the game is so important.

I was fortunate enough to play under Coach Barnes as an assistant coach for three years and as a head coach for one year. He taught me many valuable lessons on and off the court. One of the things that Coach Barnes took from Coach Rob Evans was that not only did they need to teach us the game of basketball but also valuable life lessons.

Basketball is just a microcosm of life. He taught that if you take care of the little things in your life, there is a direct correlation to how you play the game of basketball.

I believe that everyone associated with Ole Miss Basketball in the late 1990s and early 2000s learned this, and most have become very productive citizens and are now sharing that same message to people they come in contact with.

We had a great run in 1999 that culminated with us getting the first NCAA tournament win in Ole Miss history. Not to mention that after our win against Villanova in Milwaukee, we had No. 1 seed Michigan State on the ropes until the very end.

This was all under the tutelage of Rod Barnes. I joke with people all the time that while that year was great, in 2001 when they got rid of some of the dead weight (me), they finally made it to the Sweet 16. What a great team that was with the likes of Rahim Lockhart, Jason Flanigan, the Provine Posse, and of course, "The Little Man", Jason Harrison. Coach Barnes was rightfully named the SEC Coach of the Year and Naismith National Coach of the Year after that season.

While I really enjoyed playing for Coach Barnes and everything that was involved from a basketball standpoint, I think what I will take most from Coach Barnes is the kind of person he was and is. He does not let basketball define who he is as a person, father, husband, etc. In this big business of college athletics, it is nice to see someone who is truly one of the "good guys".

Thanks, Coach, for all you mean to me and Ole Miss. Congratulations on a well-deserved M-Club Hall of Fame induction.

(Editor's note: Rod Barnes played basketball at Ole Miss from 1985-88. After he left the court for the final time at the SEC Tournament as a senior, he received a standing ovation - from the media on press row as well as the fans. He was head coach at Ole Miss from 1999-2006. Keith Carter is an Assistant Athletics Director for Development in the UMAA Foundation. He and his wife, Jill, along with their two children, Drew and Callie, live in Oxford. Keith is also color analyst for the Ole Miss men's basketball radio network.)

OM Spirit Top Stories