Talking hoops with coach Barrie

Gaels coach discusses Queen’s, Michael Jordan and more

Barrie’s first season with the Gaels’ was in 2011.
Journal File Photo

It’s been eight years since Steph Barrie and men’s basketball were the OUA’s worst team with a 2-20 record. Luckily, that’s in the program’s rear-view mirror.

Barrie’s tumultuous first season as Gaels head coach in 2011 was, at least on the surface, a forgettable period for the program. Behind the scenes, however, was an energized coaching staff looking to pump life into a team that was desperate for a change of pace. 

During a candid interview, The Journal spoke with Barrie about his program’s newfound direction, the changing landscape in the sport of basketball, recruiting, analytics and — much to our delight — the Jordan vs. LeBron debate. 

What dragged you to Queen’s after coaching women’s basketball at Western for six years? 

There were two driving reasons of why I came. One was that I started in the men’s game, having played and been an assistant coach on the University of Toronto men’s team. I was looking for an opportunity and this was kind of perfect timing. 

I also wanted to make sure I was going to a school that was a good fit. I’m used to schools that have some academic standards and a culture that really prioritizes academics — Queen’s was no different. All the boxes were checked, so I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity. 

You touched on culture and academics … when you’re laying out a pitch to a recruit, are those the kinds of values you bank on?

I mean, for the most part, I think one of our biggest pitches that we talk about constantly is that if you’re going to come to Queen’s, it has to be for more than just basketball. You’re really not going to survive if it’s just going to be a basketball decision solely; you have to be driven academically to be successful. 

The way we run our program and the way that we coach is we talk about life as much as we talk about basketball. And if that’s not something that appeals to someone, it’s not going to workout. 

In a perfect world, what brand of basketball would you have your team play every game? 

I think there are certain pieces that have to be there all the time, like playing hard defensively and rebounding. I’m also big on being unselfish. I’ve never been a coach that runs plays for guys as my [only] offense; I like to run offense that has movement — ball movement, person movement. Creating opportunities and then letting the game dictate what happens.

As Golden State [in the NBA] are showing, when more guys touch the ball in a possession they’re willing to do more for their teammates.

Kind of off-base, but I’ve got to take advantage: Jordan or LeBron? 

That’s a no-brainer. I think for anyone who lived in my generation … Jordan was getting into that time when he was the superstar of the NBA, so he was everything to us.  For me, it’ll always be Jordan — he’ll always be the greatest. I don’t think anyone can take that title away from him. 

I think LeBron’s a more complete basketball player, but the reality is — and what I think most people forget is — as much as shooting and skill and all those things matter, the competitive principle is the most important. And no one has ever competed at a higher level than Jordan. He was the most fierce competitor to a level that I don’t think we’ve seen or been exposed to again.

Do you encourage your staff to use analytics — and why?

Oh yeah. No question. [Analytics] are one part of your decision-making process, it’s one tool and it’s an important one … it doesn’t make every decision for you but it certainly influences decisions because you see it for every opponent you have that stat for and all your own players, too. 

We hire a company to clip our games and then stat them for analytics — so we get all kinds of advanced stats and we can tell our players what their efficiencies are.

What skills and qualities do you look for when evaluating a player?

I think there’s kind of two sides to the basketball court that you’re looking at evaluating. One would be the skill side of it — we always like to use the term, ‘What are you bringing to the party?’ And you have to be bringing something to the party. Whether you’re a great rebounder and defender; whether you’re a tremendous shooter, or have tremendous ball-handling and passing skills … you have to bring something.

The other side of it is the mental side. Do you have leadership abilities? Are you a guy that’s a great teammate? Are you unselfish — or do you have some issues with that?

How do you feel about the way the program is headed compared to your first year? 

There are some programs when you take over that can really swing upwards very quickly … and I knew that Queen’s was going to be a job that could be successful, but it was going to take time. I knew that. 

Part of what I think [Athletics] was looking for was someone who was going to stay and not look at it as a stepping stone job to the next job. And for me, I wasn’t looking at this job that way. The attraction for both sides was that there was going to be stability and I was going to be here. 

We want to change this program, it’s going to take some serious effort, but this group can move us in the right direction.

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