I regularly feature some of the people I get to work with on a daily basis within CSUB Athletics, so as basketball season approaches I think telling the story of our head coach Rod Barnes is fitting.
Coach Barnes came to Bakersfield in 2011, immediately he upped the level of recruiting to help put a winning team on the floor during his first season. At 16-14 we won the most games ever since the Division I transition, we even went to the CIT Tournament -- our first postseason gig where we fell at Utah State. Last season, despite injuries and a bunch of redshirts, his squad still managed a 14-16 record as they closed out their final season as an independent.
This season the stakes are higher, nobody is more aware of that burden and that pressure than Rod Barnes.
Fortunately, there's probably not another person on staff that is more prepared to handle it. He's been in this situation before. He turned around his alma mater Ole Miss when he became head coach, leading them to a pair of NCAA Tournament berths and a spot in the Sweet 16, and he also took home SEC and Naismith Coach of the Year honors for his efforts.
His Ole Miss career as a player and a coach was so prolific, that he remains the only athlete in the storied history of the SEC to be named both 'Player of the Year' and 'Coach of the Year.' He is also all over the Rebels' record books and last summer was inducted into the Ole Miss Hall of Fame. Surprisingly his playing career didn't lead to him being drafted out of college despite being recognized as the best point guard in the SEC. Now he's a coach, and I pity the point guards that play for him. He makes them better sure, but he's especially tough on that position given his history.
After coaching at Ole Miss, he had some success at Georgia State, turned around the program academically, got his seniors to graduate and built the foundation for a team that is expected to be a contender in their new conference home, the Sun Belt.
Now in Bakersfield and now in his third season, coach Barnes has continued to work towards the promise he made three years ago to the media and supporters gathered to celebrate his hiring; "I will not rest until this program is in the NCAA Tournament."
Bold prediction? Sure, but as we enter one of the most important seasons to date, his promise is closer than ever to fruition.
We all know this season will come down to three days in March, three days in Las Vegas where the WAC Tournament title will be decided and the winner heads to the NCAA Tournament.
In the last two seasons, coach Barnes' Roadrunners have posted a 7-1 record in their last four games of the season -- the only loss was the CIT First-round game at Utah State in 2012.
He's used the last two seasons to prepare a team for a conference tournament that will finally be a reality this season. Hopefully, after those three days in Las Vegas, coach Barnes will be allowed to get some rest.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University Bakersfield.