From rucks to rebounds

Chris Barrett plied his trade both on the rugby pitch and basketball court this season, starring in both and forcing tough choices

Chris Barrett starred for the rugby and basketball team this season. He’s decided to concentrate on basketball next year.
Chris Barrett starred for the rugby and basketball team this season. He’s decided to concentrate on basketball next year.
Photo: 
Wing Chris Barrett helped the rugby team to its first Turner Trophy since 2001 in November.
Wing Chris Barrett helped the rugby team to its first Turner Trophy since 2001 in November.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo
Barrett (right) played as a guard for the basketball team after missing the first four games of the season due to rugby’s extended playoff run.
Barrett (right) played as a guard for the basketball team after missing the first four games of the season due to rugby’s extended playoff run.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

After a perfect 8-0 season and winning the rugby team’s first Turner Trophy since 2001 in the fall, most athletes would take a deserved winter break from sports. But third-year rugby wing Chris Barrett was gearing up for his first season with the basketball team.

After two seasons with the rugby team which ended in two finals appearances, B.C. native Barrett played a vital role in this season’s squad. Rugby head coach Peter Huigenbos said Barrett is a big-game player, adding that his heroics came in handy in November’s final against the Western Mustangs.

“He is a versatile and talented athlete,” he said. “Chris set-up two tries in the OUA Final, and scored the winning try for Queen’s to complete a thrilling comeback. The individual effort he made to score the winning try was something few, if any, players in the league would have been able to do under the circumstances.”

When Barrett was a high school senior, Huigenbos flew out to Vancouver to meet with him because of the young athlete’s natural skill and ability at rugby.

“I was impressed with his rugby ability, but his coaches and teachers said he may be a better basketball player,” he said. “I encouraged Chris to pursue rugby and basketball at Queen’s and told him I would support any decision he made. Competing in two varsity sports gives an athlete exposure to different training philosophies and strategies.”

Having played basketball throughout his youth, Barrett was a latecomer to the sport of rugby. The popularity of the sport at Vancouver’s St. George’s High School encouraged him to give it a try which led to opportunities to play both at Queen’s and nationally for the Canadian U-20 team at last year’s world championship in Japan.

Barrett was originally recruited to the basketball program. However, he chose to play for the rugby team through his first two years.

“I was planning on just playing basketball,” he said, adding that he missed basketball in his first two years.

Barrett was allowed to join the basketball team after the rugby season ended on Nov. 14, forcing him to miss the pre-season and the first four league games the basketball team played.

Prolific Gaels forward Mitch Leger said Barrett was a revelation for the basketball team.

“I think he adjusted ridiculously fast,” he said. “His mentality of giving it everything he has, whether or not he completely understands our system itself, the toughness and strength he plays with eliminated not knowing the system. Once he got the hang of it, he’s obviously a great athlete, and he covered some of the best players in the league. He also made our guys step up as well.

Barrett played 14 games for the Gaels, averaging a little over 20 minutes a game. In that time he scored 69 points and pulled down 26 rebounds.

One sport’s demands are difficult enough to balance with school work and social life. The off-season is a much needed break for most athletes from weekend long road trips and hours logged at the gym and on the court, field or ice. Barrett, however, said he wasn’t too worried.

“It hasn’t been too bad. It’s been busy but there isn’t much overlapping between the seasons. I have been able to do both without too much of a problem.”

After three seasons with the rugby team, Barrett said he’s not suiting up for them this fall, opting to focus on basketball instead. After missing some basketball-specific training this year because of rugby, Barrett’s staying in Kingston for the summer in order to train for the upcoming basketball season.

Leger said he was excited by Barrett’s decision to concentrate on hoops next season.

“I think for him to just be able to work on his basketball skills is huge,” he said. “Realistically, the way he played having just played a rugby season was unbelievable. For him to be around for the summer as well—he raises everyone’s intensity at the gym, he brings a good attitude into the team.”

A quarter-final loss to the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees ended the Gaels’ basketball season but the team had a strong regular season, finishing third in the OUA East behind perennial powers the Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens.

Even with the loss of several key veterans, including guards Ryan Hairsine, Baris Ondul and possibly Leger, the men’s basketball team is aiming for another successful season against a stacked eastern conference which contains the perennial favourites, the Gee Gees, and the Carleton Ravens. Leger said Barrett’s leadership will be important next season.

“Chris is a natural leader,” he said. “Baris and Ryan and myself were here all season, but I think next year Chris will step into that role really well. Especially when you’re not necessarily rebuilding a team, but after losing a couple of key guys, you need guys who are gritty and have the right attitude and want to play—guys who give everything they have every time they step on the floor, and Chris is definitely one of those guys.”

—With files from Amrit Ahluwalia

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