On a wall near West Hill Collegiate Institute’s main entrance are 17 framed photos and profiles of alumni inducted into the Gallery of Distinction established seven years ago to observe the Scarborough high school’s 50th anniversary.
The gallery was set up to recognize and celebrate the success of some of the school’s most successful graduates, including Rowan Barrett who completed high school in 1991 and made full use of a basketball scholarship to St. John’s University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management.
He captained St. John’s in his final year, scoring a career-high 32 points in an 86-84 win over the Louisville Cardinals in a nationally televised game. The New York Post also voted him the university’s Scholar Athlete of the Year in his last season.
Barrett played basketball professionally in Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy and France and he was captain of the Canadian team that finished seventh in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. One of his teammates was two-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player (MVP) Steve Nash who has been in the league since 1996 when he was drafted 15th by the Phoenix Suns.
Nash and Barrett are close friends and the Order of Canada recipient is the godfather of the older of Barrett’s two sons.
While they have accomplished a lot individually on and off the court, it always bothered Barrett that Canada did not win a medal at the summer Olympics or the International Basketball Federation’s world championships. The situation has not changed since he retired in 2008.
“We always talked about that and how we could make the national program better for us to achieve that,” said Barrett who led Canada to a silver medal at the 1993 World University Games. “We looked at the challenges we faced in our era like lack of funding and other issues and we made a pact years ago that one day we will team up and work to get the men’s program going in the right direction.”
Last September, Barrett called Nash – who Time magazine named in 2006 as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential people – to encourage him to be Basketball Canada’s senior men’s team manager.
“I drew Steve’s attention to the growing number of young players we have and I also talked to him about the responsibility we have to help nurture them,” recalled Barrett who was contracted with the Toronto Raptors in 1997 and 1999. “Steve’s response was, ‘How do we do it?’. That’s all it took to coerce him to come on board.”
Earlier this month, Canada Basketball named Nash general manager of the senior men’s basketball team and Barrett his assistant and executive vice-president.
With the 38-year-old Nash – who is a free agent – expected to sign an NBA contract, Barrett will be full-time in his new role and a key support for the GM. June 15 is his last day on the job as a Royal Bank of Canada branch manager.
“I will manage the day-to-day operations, ensuring that the initiatives we come up with are executed,” said Barrett. “I will also have a team working with me and I will be providing Steve with weekly updates so that we are on the same page all the time. My second role as executive vice-president will involve building partnerships and fundraising on the corporate side.”
To support the new structure and approach, Canada Basketball will be relying on additional funds contributed by a private group of sponsors and modelled along the lines of the B2ten group that provided funding to support many of the athletes that shone for Canada at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Armed with an undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees in addition to strong business and leadership skills, Barrett is well equipped to lead the charge in his new roles.
“One of the things I did as a player was ensure that I leverage the opportunity that basketball afforded me to get an education,” said Barrett. “After my playing career was over, I did my MBA and I dabbled in business before joining the bank in a sales leadership role three years ago. RBC is an excellent organization and some of the skills I learned here will be very useful in my new positions.”
Barrett is confident that he and Nash can turn the program around. Canada has not won a basketball medal in the Olympics since 1936 when this country won silver in Berlin.
In the past, several NBA players have turned their back on Canada Basketball, citing personal reasons. Barrett however thinks that will change with Nash at the helm.
“The name Steve Nash carries a lot of clout,” he said. “The fact that he has been Canada’s most successful basketball player ever sets a benchmark. When he talks about how much playing for his country has been a huge part of his development, I think that will resonate with young players and inspire them. He is a hero for many players in Canada.”
Barrett has already hit the road running in his new job. Three weekends ago on a Friday afternoon after work, he hopped on a plane to Dallas to watch Andrew Wiggins play in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League. The 6’ 7” small forward, who attends Huntington Prep in West Virginia, is rated the top high school player in the United States.
It’s that kind of talent that excites Barrett about his new job.
BY RON FANFAIR