Ernie Barrett is “Mr. K-State,” through and through.
Barrett was a consensus second-team All-American at Kansas State in 1951. A 6-foot-5 senior captain and long-range shooting guard, he was a top scorer on K-State’s Big Seven Conference championship team.
As K-State prepares for Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game with Kentucky, Barrett recalled leading Kansas State on a joyride to the national championship game against the powerhouse Kentucky Wildcats.
Barrett, K-State’s best player, was injured three days earlier in an NCAA West Regional against Oklahoma State. He took a hard hit while drawing a charging foul, and it curtailed K-State’s title hopes as he was only able to play in the opening minutes of the championship game. Kentucky prevailed, 68-58, at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
“I couldn’t raise my arm, it was one of those things,” the 88-year-old Barrett told The Mercury in a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon. Barrett was busy preparing to fly with Kansas State’s team to Atlanta.
“We played them pretty hard, until the very last two or three minutes of the game. We had a lead at halftime (29-27), and (Kentucky) won by 10. After we played in Minneapolis, I had to go into the service for two years and while I was in the service, my arm got well.”
Barrett wore several different hats at K-State after he played for the Boston Celtics, who selected him in the first round of the NBA Draft, the seventh overall selection in 1951. But the Celtics had to wait until 1953 before gaining his services since Barrett had to serve two years in the Korean War. He played alongside flashy point guard Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman while in Beantown.
Barrett played in 131 NBA games, all for the Celtics, in 1953-54 and 1955-56.
He served as an assistant coach for the legendary Tex Winter at K-State, then assistant athletic director, then athletic director, among other jobs, and Barrett became the university’s most visible basketball ambassador for decades.
Barrett said during the regional game against Oklahoma State, he took a hit from a player on a fast break.
“I took a took a very deep left shoulder, which knocked me out of the game at the time. We already had the game won, big-time, and we really didn’t think much about it.”
As it turned out, Barrett was unable to raise his left arm after the game on Saturday night. And it wasn’t much better on Sunday.
“I only had until the following Tuesday to get my shoulder ready to go against Kentucky and, unfortunately, I couldn’t even raise it,” he said. “I tried to get Jack Gardner to, but Coach wouldn’t allow me to get a shot with Novocaine, when we only had two days to get ready for Kentucky.
“Anyway, Gardner wouldn’t let me do it, and we had to play (the national title game) pretty much without me. They started me, and I made the first two shots that I took, and then (Kentucky) found out that I couldn’t use my left arm. Gardner took me out of the game, and I didn’t play the rest of the game.”
Kentucky had opened the 1950-51 season on an 84-game home win streak. Kentucky finished 32-2. It edged Illinois, 76-74, in the East Regional at Madison Square Garden in New York City to advance to win their third national title in four seasons under Adolph Rupp.
“They had great players,” Barrett said. “Good Lord. they had (Jim) Spivey as their center, (Cliff) Hagan and (Frank) Ramsey — and all of those guys were sophomores. Unfortunately, they had a narrow free-throw lane during this time.
“And Spivey, of course, 7-foot tall, they were throwing the ball into him and our center was Lew Hitch, who was 6-8. He was doing a great job on Spivey in the first half and all of a sudden, they realized they could get the ball deep and up and over Hitch.”
Kentucky was able to separate itself from K-State in the late stages, as Barrett watched helplessly from the bench.
“The first thing to know about our K-State team back then was Lew Hitch was the center and Jack Stone was 6-foot-4 from California and he could really play. The other forward was Ed Head, also from California, and he was a great shooter. Jim Iverson was one guard, and I was the other.”
K-State, which finished 25-4, was led by Barrett, who averaged 10.3 points on 41.1-percent field-goal shooting his senior year, one year removed from averaging 10 points as a junior. Stone averaged 8.2 points in 1950-51, and Iverson averaged 7.8 points.
“We had a great offense at Kansas State under Jack Gardner and Tex Winter,” Barrett said. “We had an offense that was a motion offense, and we had an irregular way of putting the center at different places all of the time and putting the guards at different places all of the time.
“Mine was to break on a fake and go to the corner and shoot. The first two times I did that, I scored. But then after that, Kentucky found out that’s where I was headed and Gardner took me out. I was about the only one that shot from the corner; I could have been able to shoot the 3 at that time.”
Barrett can relate to Wade’s angst
Having missed nearly all of the biggest game of his K-State career, Barrett says he can relate with what Kansas State forward Dean Wade is going through.
Wade, K-State’s leading scorer and rebounder, missed the first two games of the 2018 NCAA Tournament with a stress fracture in his left foot.
A 6-foot-10 junior from St. John, Wade says he’s 98 percent sure he will play against Kentucky. He didn’t play in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal loss to Kansas after he injured his foot in a first-round win over TCU.
“I feel very sorry for Wade, who is playing for us and whether or not, he says he’s 98 percent ready,” Barrett said. “But you can’t have a foot that’s not acceptable to quickness and everything, he can’t play with that and be very effective, but he may.
“It’s up to the doctors to really let him play or not. I am hoping that he can play because he’s an outstanding player that makes things happen in our offense because he’s 6-foot-10. He’s learning, and he knows how to shoot it.”
K-State enters the Sweet 16 game with a 24-11 record.
“I’ve watched him in practice,” Barrett said of Wade. “I go to quite a few of the practices, and I see him shooting beyond the 3-point line, just going around the circle and never missing.
“(Kentucky) has blown some games this year, and I’ve watched a few of them on television and they can be beat, just like some of these other teams that have already gotten beat this year, Virginia, for godsakes. We have played Kentucky seven times since our team lost to them in 1951 and have never beaten them yet.”
Barrett made a point to talk about the positives of this year’s team.
“If I can say a good thing about our basketball team,” he said, “If they play like they’re capable of playing, playing with each other and shooting that 3, we can beat Kentucky.
“Kentucky likes to run and all of that business, and we do, too. Anyway, I think we have a chance to beat them.”
Finally got his NBA shot
Although he was a first-round draft selection, Barrett had trouble getting some playing time early on with the Celtics.
“I got to play in 18 games when I first got back there before the conference even started,” he said. “We played up in New England, and Celtics general manager Red Auerbach kept telling me he wanted me to play with Bob Cousy.
“We only had three guards, and Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman could really shoot,” Barrett said. “(Cousy) could have played today. He was excellent, and he had long arms, about 3 or 4 inches longer than mine, and he made all of those great passes.”
Barrett, the third guard, said Auerbach told him that he wanted him playing with Cousy on a daily basis in the preseason.
“After we started playing in the regular season, we had 82 games to play in,” Barrett said. “The very first 30, I didn’t get to play, and finally the owner of the Celtics went to Auerbach and says, “Red, why in the hell aren’t you playing the No. 1 guard that we recruited?
“You aren’t even playing him. Finally, the owner got Auerbach to listen to him and I got to play. At the time, I think I was averaging eight points, After that, I started playing with both Cousy and Sharman and later, I was scoring 16 points per game.”
The NBA back in the 1950s, obviously, was far different than today’s NBA.
“In those days, there wasn’t any money in the NBA,” Barrett said. “When I was in the service, the NBA was only three or four years old. It was just starting. After I got out of the Celtics after six years, that’s when the big money started.
“Cousy was making only $18,000, and I was making only $7,000. The next year, I got up to $13,000 and Cousy was getting about $40 or $50,000. If I would have stayed one more year with the Celtics, I would have been able to play with Bill Russell, and I would have been getting those coins and everything else.”
1951 NCAA National Championship
Kentucky 68, Kansas State 58
KANSAS STATE, Ed Head 3 2-2 8, Jack Stone 3 6-8 12, Lew Hitch 6 1-1 13, Ernie Barrett 2 0-2 4, Jim Iverson 3 1-2 7, Robert Rousey 2 0-0 4, John Gibson 0 1-1 1, Don Upson 0 0-0 0, Dick Knostman 1 1-2 3, Richard Peck 2 0-1 4, Dan Schuyler 1 0-1 2. Totals 23 12-20 58.
KENTUCKY, Lucian Whitaker 4 1-1 9, Shelby Linville 2 4-8 8, Jim Spivey 9 4-6 22, Frank 4 1-3 9, Bobby Watson 3 2-4 8, Cliff Hagan 5 0-2 10, Lou Tsioropoulos 1 0-0 2, C.M. Newton 0 0-0 0. Totals 28 12-24 68.
Halftime: Kansas State 29, Kentucky 27. Fouled out — Kansas State (Head, Stone, Hitch, Gibson); Kentucky (Linville, Ramsey, Hagan).