Brian T. Smith: Coach lives on through player's NBA dream
More than 10 months have passed since Brad Barton died.
Terrence Joyner still can't get Barton out of his mind.
There's the "RIP Brad" T-shirt Joyner wore during his senior season in 2011-12 at Mississippi Valley State, honoring the former Eastern Utah coach whose life was cut short last October at the age of 31. The knowledge that Barton, a Davis High School product and Weber State standout, can never pick up the phone again and challenge Joyner to live the best life possible. The reality that Joyner is just one call away from soon playing professional basketball in Spain or Israel Â maybe even earning a spot on an NBA training camp roster and Barton will never share the joy.
"I wish he could see how well I'm doing now," said Joyner, who spent a transformative sophomore season in Price with the Golden Eagles and recently was a member of the Milwaukee Bucks' NBA Summer League team.
Joyner never took the court for Eastern Utah during his lost season of 2009-10. But he swears Barton saved his life.
As a teenager, Joyner was on the verge of something real: escaping a rough life on the outskirts of Los Angeles, giving his paralyzed father a son to be proud of, becoming a man. Basketball provided a path. Offers from USC, Tennessee and Washington State poured in. A commitment to Arkansas sealed it: Joyner was free.
Except he never was. Joyner didn't become a Razorback because of poor SAT scores. As a freshman guard at New Mexico State in 2009, he was reportedly arrested for possessing marijuana inside his luggage while the Aggies were on a road trip that included Utah State. Then Joyner's grandmother died, one of four people close to him who passed away in a few years.
"It was just a lot of back-to-back stuff that was terrible. Life was just hitting me, man," Joyner said. "Brad was the one who really woke me up and just taught me about things. We were so different, but we were so alike. We connected."
Joyner added: "He knew I was two seconds from letting [my dream] slip away."
Barton never saw the dream come to life. While Joyner was rediscovering the talent that once made him a national prospect he averaged 13.1 points last season for Mississippi Valley, pushing the Delta Devils to a near upset of Dayton in an NCAA men's basketball tournament play-in game Barton was already gone. One season after coaching Eastern Utah to a 23-7 record, Barton lost an unforgiving battle against diabetes.
"Brad was one in a million, in my mind. Both as a basketball player and as a person," said Joe Cravens, who coached Barton at Weber State. "As a player, he had an unbelievable feel for the game. He was tough and strong and extraordinarily competitive. As a person, he had a great gift for being around people, leading people, motivating people. He would've had a terrific coaching career had he lived."
Joyner can't let Barton go. He wants the regional basketball community to know just how important his mentor was. Ten months have felt like a lifetime. And as Joyner gets closer and closer to the dream Barton pushed him toward, the one person who believed in him deserves to be remembered as long as possible.
"He just changed me so much off the court and on the court to appreciate life," Joyner said. "How he approached it was going hard, and you never know when you're not going to get another chance."