Senior leaves a mark far bigger than wins and losses
At one point during his sophomore year, LeRon Barnes was ready to call it quits as a member of the men’s basketball team.
After twisting his ankle repeatedly, a teary-eyed Barnes told Houston assistant coach Alvin Brooks that he didn’t believe he could continue battling injuries.
On crutches and crying his eyes out, Barnes made the decision to tough it out.
“I was always taught that when things get difficult, tough it out and don’t try to run away from your problems,” Barnes said. “I thank my parents for teaching me that.”
Not only did he decided to stick it out and battle his injuries, he was one of only a handful of players who decided to remain with the program two years ago after former head coach James Dickey resigned.
His decision paid tenfold and his fondest memory would come on the last home game of his career, when Houston beat conference rival Cincinnati. He was also honored for senior night, which he admits brought tears to his eyes.
It isn’t his greatest memory for personal reasons.
The men who played beside him are what made him feel as though he was a part of something bigger than when he started.
“We talked all week about winning this game and we won,” Barnes said. “We have 22 wins and we did it as a team. No one thought that we’d beat Cincinnati, but we all believed it as a team and we went out and did it together. I’ve never had a team like this and it just feels so good.”
As a two-time captain, Barnes has heard the praise from his teammates as well as his coaches. But for Barnes, they’re the reason why his smile reached his eyes during his last game.
“In the five years that I’ve been here, we’ve never had a team like this,” Barnes said. “We’re all so close, very close. If we go somewhere, it’s all of us together. No one is separate. It makes it a little tough and bittersweet to have to leave.”
Barnes attributes a great part of that to head coach Kelvin Sampson for believing in him and thinking so highly of him.
“Throughout my entire career, I’ve never had a coach like Coach Sampson,” Barnes said. “His enthusiasm, how smart he is. He’s a great teacher. He’s a role model for me. I respect him so much and I try to take after him. For him to believe in me like he does is a feeling I can’t even describe.”
He credits Sampson for turning the program around and for changing the culture of the program, but Sampson is just as thankful for Barnes as Barnes is for him.
“I thank the good Lord for Coach Dickey recruiting LeRon Barnes. This kid is solid,” Sampson said. “You could coach for 30 years and never inherit a kid that has all the check marks that LeRon has; good player, good character, great teammate, great leader, mature beyond his years, team-first kind of guy, and coachable. We just got lucky.”
Barnes said he does whatever is asked of him, and most importantly, he works hard every day and respects those around him just like they respect him.
Barnes’ fellow team-captain from last year and current graduate assistant Mikhail McLean, says Barnes just leads by example in all things.
“He’s a silent leader who doesn’t speak much, but when he does speak, guys listen,” McLean said.
“He plays hard, and he even plays with injury. He’ll play through it just to show guys that if you have an injury, you can play through it instead of trying to sit out. He’s basically a voice of Coach Sampson.”
Although his time as a Cougar is almost up, Barnes hopes to continue his career and play basketball overseas.
Once that’s done, he said he plans to put his degree in health to use, continue in a leadership role and become a coach.
Before that happens, he wants to leave his teammates, coaches, and fans a message.
“Thanks for all the support and being loyal to me,” Barnes said.
Although he won’t be stepping back on the Hofheinz Pavilion court as a Houston Cougars player anymore, guys will be hearing about the 6’5” guard from Stonewall, La. for years to come.
“He’ll be someone that I’ll hold up two years from now, five years from now, seven years from now, when we recruit, and we’ll say ‘we had a guy here back in 2014 and 2015 named LeRon Barnes, and here’s his story’,” Sampson said. “This is the kind of kid that he was. We want you to be like him.”