Editor’s note: This is the first in a weeklong series of stories on the Sacred Heart Cathedral boys basketball team leading up to Saturday’s state championship game.
By Jeremy Balan
When Sacred Heart Cathedral was down by double digits early against Bishop O’Dowd in the Northern California Division III boys basketball championship game, there was no sign of panic from the Irish players.
They emulate their coach, Darrell Barbour, whose expression and demeanor on the sideline does not change whether the Irish are blowing an opponent out by 30 points or trailing by 20.
His most-common pose is standing, with one arm across his midsection and the other raised up to his chin, as if he is pondering his next move. It’s what he calls “seeing the game,” the same way he did as point guard growing up in eastern Menlo Park.
“One of the things I try to get my players to understand is the emotion of the game and to stay even-keeled,” Barbour said. “Being on that roller coaster of emotions is not a healthy thing. It wears you down physically and mentally. There’s nothing wrong with showing emotion as long as it’s controlled emotion.”
The demeanor and stability of the players is a top concern, but the way Sacred Heart plays lacks tight restraints. Barbour wants the Irish to play the game instinctively and in flow, able to make split-second adjustments and improvisations.
“It’s an instinctive game and if you take that away from good players, you handicap them,” Barbour said. “We have a concept and we have a philosophy, but I want them to play. Over time, you have to know your strengths as an individual. If you’re not a 3-point shooter, you shouldn’t take 3-point shots. Some players get it and if they don’t figure it out, they come watch the game with me.”
In his fifth year at Sacred Heart after 12 years at Woodside High School, Barbour embraces the label of “old school” in coaching and in life.
He doesn’t look at stats after games, and admitted that many times this season he didn’t know the final score or the team’s record. Instead, he relies on his intuition in “seeing the game.”
He also doesn’t shy away from telling his players exactly how he feels, but sometimes it only takes a glance.
“There are times in a game where they will know where I stand and know I’m not happy,” Barbour said. “For some that have been around me for a long time, all it will take is a look.”
Nothing, however, is more paramount than respect. He demands it from his players — even if it requires removing a hood or a hat from one of his players in the gym — but he also holds himself accountable and is not shy to admit when he has let the team or an individual down.
“I tell my kids all the time that I’m not a know-it-all,” Barbour said. “I don’t want to know it all. I want to have the hunger and passion to get better.”