Brian Barbour didn’t realize what he had accomplished when he walked off the floor after Columbia’s 54-42 victory over American last Saturday.
“I actually didn’t even know until after,” Barbour said. “I completely kind of forgot about it. I was so focused on us struggling early on in that game, it wasn’t until after [SID Mike Kowalsky] told me congrats.”
With his two-point field goal during a 10-0 Lions run, Barbour became the 25th player in Columbia history to score 1,000 points during his career.
It didn’t always look like Barbour would get here. During his freshman year, the 6’1” guard from Alamo, Calif. played fewer than 10 minutes a game and scored just 51 total points. Noruwa Agho was the leader of that team, which struggled to an 11-17 record in former head coach Joe Jones’ final season.
Off the court Barbour was also adjusting to being an Ivy League student.
“My first year I was shell-shocked,” Barbour said. “It was a huge adjustment coming across the country and never having to take courses that were this hard. I overreacted a little.”
In a moment of panic early in his freshman year Barbour told his father he thought he might fail. Now, he is on pace to finish his degree in History.
A New Opportunity
When Kyle Smith became the head coach in the offseason after Barbour’s freshman campaign everything changed on the court. Smith had tried to recruit Barbour as an assistant at St. Mary’s and the presence of a familiar face helped ease the coach’s cross-country move.
“It wouldn’t have been as easy a transition,” Smith said of Barbour being in Morningside Heights. “Having someone with that high a character. Basketball is really important, academics are as well. He’s someone you trust in the game all the time.”
Barbour starting playing more during his sophomore season. His minutes jumped to more than 35 per game and he averaged 13.3 points and 15.6 points per game during his sophomore and junior seasons respectively as the Lions finished .500 each year. While he was becoming a consistent scoring threat, Barbour was also learning how to play the point guard position.
“I had played a lot of two in high school. My coach needed me to be a scorer,” Barbour said. “Coach Smith really helped me learn the position [of point guard] … I learned when to attack and what to look for.”
Barbour has been such a good student, that he has the chance to do something that could be even more impressive than his 1,000 points. He’s poised to become just the seventh player in Columbia history to record more than 300 assists in his career. (He currently has 280 in his career.)
“I still have so much to learn about how to control a game better,” Barbour said. “As a point guard you’re always looking for more things to improve.”
In the first game of Ivy League play last season at home against Penn, Barbour showed off what he had learned. He scored 25 points and dished out six assists in a tour de force against Zack Rosen, the eventual Ivy League Player of the Year. While Columbia ultimately lost that game at the buzzer, 66-64, it illustrated just how good Barbour could be.
“That really instilled a lot of confidence in me,” Barbour said of the game. “I think what changed my career the most is when coach came here. He got me working on a lot of things that have helped me improve my game.”
The Missing Piece
Unfortunately, that game against the Quakers turned out to be a microcosm of Columbia’s Ivy League season in 2012. While Barbour was an all-conference performer, seven losses by fewer than five points or in overtime left the Lions at 4-10 on the season and 15-15 overall.
This season the entire team is focused on making the postseason. Smith has brought in a number of talented young guards to improve the team’s athleticism and make a push in a wide open Ivy League race. The Lions have had some early success, including an upset at Villanova, but there have also been some growing pains, such as a home loss to Marist.
“That’s always been my main goal,” said Barbour about making the postseason. “It’s definitely an ideal goal and very capable of happening. When I first got here they told me we could compete for an Ivy League title … Being in the postseason is something I’ve always dreamed about. It’d be bigger than any individual accomplishment I can achieve here.”
Building The Pipeline
In order to make that happen, Barbour will need to help freshmen like Grant Mullins learn what it takes to win at the collegiate level. The young point guard from Canada is often referred to as “the next Brian Barbour” by Columbia fans, a distinction that seems appropriate according to Smith. He wants to create a pipeline of great point guards, much like St. Mary’s has smoothly transitioned from Patrick Mills to Mickey McConnell to Matthew Dellavedova today.
“That was our sell,” said Smith about recruiting Mullins. “We didn’t know Grant would be this good this early. I’m sure there will be bumps in the road. … To have someone like [Barbour] set the standard. The younger guys come into the program and see how things are done. I don’t see why Grant won’t be able to take the mantle in some capacity and keep chugging along.”
It helps that Mullins is so eager to learn from his senior teammate. The sharp-shooting freshman point guard has already scored in double-figures six times this season, including a 20-point outburst against American. Barbour said that Mullins’ curiosity makes it easy to help him improve.
“Grant is a great kid. He’s way more ready than I was when I came as a freshman,” Barbour said. “He’s always wanted to learn and he’s constantly asking me questions and stuff. I’m sure you’ll be talking to him in three years about his legacy.”
Barbour is trying to teach Mullins more than point guard skills, he’s also working to instill an attitude. It’s a culture that Smith and Barbour have worked together to permeate through Columbia basketball.
“We want to win as much as anyone and coach Smith has brought that culture here,” Barbour said. “Being successful in basketball is okay too, you don’t have to just be good at academics … We’re striving to do something great here and establish a great program for the long haul.”
Working hard on the court is something Barbour prides himself on even more than scoring or passing.
“My attitude and my effort is something that puts me ahead of the rest,” Barbour said. “I’m always trying to do that extra bit. That one extra thing to get a win … Even though you have a bad shooting game, you can still have a good game. That constant relentlessness is something I try and pride myself on.”
“He’s done everything,” Smith said about Barbour. “He’s a high-character person, a great talent and a great leader. All the successes we’ve had really go back to his leadership and his desire to be good.”
That desire turned Barbour into a 1,000-point scorer and now it has the potential to take Smith and his protege even further.