Asked how he plans to sell to his new Greenup County charges he intends a lengthy stint coaching them, Steve Barker pointed to his résumé.
Eighteen years at Brewton-Parker College following a five-year stint at LaGrange College — two NAIA institutions in Georgia — started Barker’s coaching career. A change to the high school stage and five years at McLean County and six seasons at Apollo, Barker’s alma mater, came after that.
So heading 300 miles east of his hometown at the age of 60 — “young at heart,” he said, chuckling — is not a move lightly made, Barker said Friday night.
“I don’t like to bounce around,” Barker said. “When I see coaches bounce around, I always wonder what their motives are. If you’re gonna go somewhere, I think you gotta give kids an opportunity and a chance to develop in your style of play and the way you teach them how to play the game.”
That may be music to the Musketeers’ ears, as Barker will be their 10th coach in a span of 15 seasons.
The most recent of those is Robert Amis, who resigned after a season that he finished under suspension. Greenup County sidelined Amis and assistant Jeff Large for the 2019-20 postseason after the school ruled the state’s leading rebounder, Rod Dryden, who had transferred to Greenup County earlier in the school year, ineligible. The Musketeers’ 21-10 season ended with a loss to eventual 16th Region Tournament runner-up Lewis County in the 63rd District Tournament semifinals.
Barker played and coached in the Third Region, but relishes the expansion of his horizon to the other end of the state, he said, upon resigning from Apollo after his sixth season there this past winter.
“I grew up in western Kentucky, so that’s really all I know, is western Kentucky high school basketball,” Barker said. “It was exciting to me to have an opportunity to come to eastern Kentucky, and when I saw (the Greenup County job) open up, I thought, man, I’d love that challenge.”
Though Barker’s time in Owensboro concluded with back-to-back 25-loss seasons and a 73-104 six-year mark, it had an unmistakable high, too: the Eagles’ 2018 trip to Rupp Arena as Third Region Tournament champion.
That was a key selling point for Greenup County, principal Jason Smith said. The Musketeers last went to the Sweet Sixteen in 1997.
“It was very evident with coach Barker that he had the experience we were looking for,” Smith said. “The fact that he has won a regional championship at Apollo helped to solidify that he was a coach that knew how to take teams to the state tournament, which is what we want to get back to at Greenup County.”
Barker said he wants to build the Musketeers program from the elementary level up “where it’s self-sufficient,” he said. He’s watched film of last year’s team and noted its shooting ability.
“It’s gonna be an exciting style of play, and our goal is to fill that gym up and get total support from everybody in the Greenup County area,” Barker said. “Defensively, I like to mix it up, play probably 80% man-to-man, but I like mixing in different zones and presses just to try to confuse the opponent.
“We’re gonna know how to compete at whatever anybody throws at us, and at the same time, we’re gonna throw some different things at opponents to make them prepare for everything.”
Barker already has one connection to the 16th Region, he noted: he knows Ashland coach Jason Mays, who worked across town at Kentucky Wesleyan when Barker was at Apollo.
Barker is married to Faith. They have three kids: Bailey, 24, Brooke, who is finishing her freshman year at Kentucky, and Beau, a sophomore-to-be who will become a Musketeer after playing in 11 varsity games at Apollo last season.
Barker is an 11th-year special education teacher, he said. He played at Apollo for legendary coach Wayne Chapman and then competed at Samford University in Alabama.
Barker still holds the Bulldogs’ career records for free-throw percentage (85.0) and consecutive charity tosses made (42) and their single-game high marks for free throws made (21) and attempted (24). He is second on Samford’s all-time scoring list (1,902 points).
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