April 29, 2015

Mike Duncan has been helping players get exposure and play Division I basketball since the 1980's through his Ohio Basketball Club.  Duncan had a lot of fun working with Western Reserve Academy and Columbia University commit Peter Barba, who played 3 years with OBC.

"Peter and his family had a plan from the very beginning, says Duncan.  They were receiving mail, emails, phone calls and requests for visits from all kinds of schools.  Coaches were calling me wanting to watch Peter practice or workout.  I was not used to a player and his parents saying no to so many coaches."   "Once we sat down and I learned what they were trying to accomplish, this all made sense. They showed me a spreadsheet they created as a family with approximately thirty schools.  We decided the plan was to focus on getting to know the coaches and the programs of these thirty schools.  This took me a while to understand, as I never heard of many of these schools, and some of them were not even Division I programs.  When I saw names like Swarthmore and Claremont McKenna on their list I was confused.  On a recruiting visit to Penn State and Colgate, Peter's dad made us stop at a small school called Hamilton College.  I had never heard of Hamilton College and certainly did not want to take a two hour detour to see this place.  However, I was blown away at the presentation on academics the coaching staff gave us during dinner, and was shocked to hear just how difficult it is to get into Hamilton."  " One day the head coach from MIT called me to discuss why they wanted Peter.  I did not even know MIT had a basketball program!"  After speaking with Coach Anderson for thirty minutes it was not only clear that MIT had a program, but that they were pretty good.  I think they made it to the Final Four of the DII NCAA tournament the season before I got that Call."

It's sort of ironic that Barba ended up committing to Columbia in June of last year as his future coach Kyle Smith played basketball and graduated from Hamilton.  

After talking with Duncan, Peter and his family at length for this article, it was apparent that they had a plan.  The Barba's put together a list of 30-40 schools all based on academics and set course to get to know these schools and their basketball programs

"My parents knew my goal was to play college basketball when I entered high school.  My mom had all of these books about the top colleges in America and would read me the summaries of the top schools.  My dad kept telling me to pick a school that I would want to attend if I could not play basketball.  Obviously, the basketball program and the coaching staff were important in my decision.  But I was always thinking about what I liked and did not like about each school as we visited," said Barba

"I visited Columbia at least five times before I committed.  I also visited several other schools that were in a big city, as well as schools like Amherst and Cornell that were way out there. I had to first decide if I wanted to go to school in an urban environment or in a more traditional college-campus environment.  As I got to see more of Columbia and New York City, I fell in love with the place.  It also helped that I got to know Coach Smith real well and got to meet some of the current players.  I think players should take time to watch a team practice and get to know the head coach.  You can tell a lot about the program from watching a team practice."  "Stuff like the locker room and where we can play video games was not important to me.  To be honest with you, I don’t think I have even seen the Columbia locker room."

Barba is a great student.  He is one of the few kids who always had his books and his laptop with him so he could study on the road.  "I missed a lot of school over the years traveling to play AAU. I always knew that slacking on my homework, falling behind on my reading, or not preparing for a test was a quick way for my plan to fail.  Also, the schools were targeting were so hard to get into.  I had a coach tell me that if I ever received a B that his school would no longer be an option."  Think about that last comment – Here is a kid who had interest from Big 10 Schools.  A DIII coach tells him that if he gets just a single B that he would have no chance to play basketball for his program!  

Let's talk about Barba's basketball accomplishments.  Many people don’t know this but Barba actually played three years of 17U basketball.  When Barba was 14 he moved to Bradenton, Florida to play and train at the IMG Academy.  Peter's head coach was Nate Vandersluis, an Ohio native.  After his first high school season at IMG his team started playing AAU basketball in what was known as the Freeway Series. Barba kept going up against some of the same kids he was playing against in his varsity games.  "I asked coach what grade level we were playing and he said that we were playing 17U.  Coach explained that it made no sense to take a group of kids who are playing against juniors and seniors during a varsity season and have us play against kids who may not have played a varsity game yet." 

Barba played two seasons for Vandersluis at IMG and started every game at the point guard position.  "I played the point for Coach Nate and he taught me so much about how to lead a team", says Barba.  "I rarely came out of the game and there was a lot of pressure put on me at a very young age to get better and figure out how to lead a team.  The whole experience at IMG was great and I'm so thankful that I go the chance to spend two years there.  It's so great when I go back to train and see my old teachers and Coach Barto."  

While at IMG, Barba worked with the coaching staff to change his shot.  Barba grew quickly and got a lot stronger quickly.  Midway through Barba's first year at IMG the coaching staff and his dad made him change his shot.  "I was killing it from three-point range, and almost never missed a foul shot.  Then my dad stages like an intervention to talk about changing my shot."  They explained that my shot had lost its spin and that I could not be an effective shooter in college without the proper spin.  It turned out that I grew so fast and my body was changing from all of the weight training we were doing.  I was not getting my legs involved in the shot and as a result, my left thumb was touching the ball just as I released it."  The shot change was not easy for Barba.  "I remember getting to the gym every morning at 6am to work with Andy Borman on my shot.  It was frustrating going from thinking you were going to make every shot to missing almost every one you take.  There were times when I never thought I was going to make a jumper in a game again.  One of the good things was it forced me to find other ways to score."

When I asked Barba when it all came together he knew the exact game.  "We were getting beat up in the Freeway Series by these older kids.  My family came down to see us play a tournament in Orlando and we were playing pretty well.  My shot was getting better, but I had a terrible shooting game in the semi-finals.  In the finals I made 8 or 9 three pointers and did not miss a shot.  It seemed like from that game, it all came together for me." "Wealso won that event, and it was really cool winning a 17U event when most of us were not even old enough to drive."

In Barba's second year at IMG he shot nearly 50% from three-point-range and a staggering 97% from the free throw line, while averaging 17 points a game.  "The shot change was hard, but it was all worth it."

After playing two seasons at IMG Barba and his family decided he should move back to Ohio.  "Having Peter away from home at such a young age was very difficult for us," said his father Dennis.  "While Peter adjusted well to being away and seemed to embrace everything about IMG, it was hard on us and particularly hard on his mom having him away from home."  "He improved so much in two years and was an excellent student.  We decided it was time for Peter to come home and have more of a traditional high school experience."

Entering his sophomore year Barba moved back home and enrolled at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio. Barba knew WRA coach Josh Humphrey from attending some of his summer camps and WRA had an excellent reputation academically.  Moving from the basketball-focused IMG experience to WRA was not an easy transition for Barba.  "The academics were an easy transition for me.  I actually loved the rigor of the WRA classroom immediately."  "But it was tough going from practicing and working out for 5-6 hours a day to having a 90 minute basketball practice.  This is when Barba met Dave Schierbaum from MAQ.  "Coach Duncan told me there was this great guy who had worked with other OBC players and that he would be willing to help me continue training when I got back to Ohio.  I met Dave a couple of times when I was flying back and forth my second year at IMG playing AAU for OBC.  I saw the progress some of the other players were making who worked with Dave and I decided to work with him."

Barba and Schierbaum have formed a special relationship.  "Dave has come to see me nearly every morning at WRA since I came back.  He's either coming to see me, or I'm finding a way to get to his place after school.  Sometimes he sees me in the morning and I still find a way to get to his place after school."

When we asked Shierbaum about Barba he said that in 14 years I’ve never had an athlete pro, college, or high school work as hard as Pete. He never misses a workout.  Columbia is getting a great person and a great player with Pete."

Barba helped put WRA basketball on the map during his years in Hudson.  In the 2014-2015 season, WRA had its best winning percentage in school history, finishing with a record of 17-3.  WRA also finished in the top-20 in the Cleveland Plain Dealer poll for the first time in school history.  Barba’s high school accomplishments included the following:


• Scored 1,820 career points in high school career


• Most improved player award recipient at the IMG Basketball academy for the 2011-2012 season


• Three time Most Valuable Player Award recipient at Western Reserve Academy


• Earned the Gold Medal in sports at WRA in 2015. Only the 12th basketball player in the history of WRA to earn a Gold Medal and the first player in 15 years to do so


• Shot 45% for high school career from three-point range


• Shot 55% for high school career from two-point range


• Shot 89% for high school career from the free throw line


• Averaged 6 rebounds per game for high school career


• Averaged 6.7 assists per game for high school career


• Averaged 2.8 steals per game for high school career


• Named 1st Team All-Ohio by for Non-OHSAA Schools


• Named Ohio’s Player of the Year by for Non-OHSAA Schools


• Selected to play in the 3rd Coast Hoops All-Star game featuring the 20-best players in Ohio


Barba is a co-founder with his younger brother Andy of League Ready Customs, a designer, manufacturer and distributor of custom socks. League Ready has sold socks in all 50 states and in more than 10 countries.


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