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Walk-on guard Alex Barlow the unlikely hero for Butler
December 16, 2012Cincinnati Moeller High School
By Nicole Auerbach
Butler has a way of creating its own fairy tales, so its latest should have come as no surprise.
Of course, the unranked Bulldogs would hand No. 1 Indiana its first loss of the season. Of course, Butler would do it without two of its best players, who'd both fouled out during a 17-second span late in the second half. And then without a third player, who'd picked up his fifth foul midway through overtime.
Of course, the game-winning shot – a floater that bounced off the backboard and around the rim not once, not two or three but four (!!) times – would come from a sophomore walk-on who averaged 0.8 points per game in his career entering Saturday.
"You grow up in the backyard with your hoop, and you dream that you're playing the No. 1 team, last-second shot, shooting it," Butler guard Alex Barlow said. "Not in my wildest dreams did I think that would be a reality."
Barlow brought the subject up with his dad, Tom, on Saturday morning, when the two talked on the phone about four hours before the game. The ritual phone call between father and son veered off to a subject they hadn't discussed before – the younger Barlow's opportunity to play against the nation's top-ranked team on national television.
"He told me, 'Don't get nervous. Don't try to do too much. Just play the game and be who you are,' " Barlow said.
So, with six seconds left in overtime, Barlow had the ball at the top of the key. He drove to the basket, did a little spin move so he could shoot with his right hand, and then he released the ball. And it bounced. And bounced again. And bounced some more – until it fell.
"When it was hitting around the rim, I was just hoping," Barlow said. "I didn't feel like I extended completely on the floater, so I thought it was a little short. I got that luck, that shooter's roll, and it bounced in."
And that's how the unknown walk-on who looks more like a shortstop than a Division I basketball player became the unlikeliest of heroes for the underdog team.
Then again, he plays for Brad Stevens. So maybe the Bulldogs were only underdogs in Vegas. Perhaps Barlow's path to this moment wasn't as implausible as we thought.
He chose to pursue a longshot career in college basketball over baseball, the sport in which he'd received interest from Ivy League schools. The 5-11 guard only played in AAU basketball tournaments twice.
"I really thought I was going to play baseball in college, but when it came down to it, I wanted to be a college basketball coach," Barlow said. "I figured that if I wanted to get into coaching, the best thing for me to do would be to walk on at Division I.
"Butler's system fit and gave me the best chance to play, and coach Stevens is the best coach around to learn from. … There's not any better young coach in college basketball than coach Stevens."
He told Stevens that he wanted to be a coach when he visited Butler initially, and the coach hasn't forgotten.
"He makes points during practice and film, like, 'People who want to be coaches, here's something to look for,' " Barlow said. "He's aware that a lot of us want to go into coaching, so he definitely does a great job of being sort of a mentor while also coaching us."
Barlow's coaching apprenticeship of sorts makes for a nice story. But that's not where this one ends.
Entering the season, Barlow's college basketball resume was less than impressive. He played in 16 games last season as a freshman, scoring six points total on the season.
Barlow wasn't satisfied. He spent many late nights in Hinkle Fieldhouse, working on his ability to take and make different types of shots – including that floater. He received more playing time as the season went on, even averaging 20 minutes a game during the CBI.
This fall, he's played in every game but one. Two games before the one against Indiana, Stevens put him in the starting lineup. He's kept Barlow there since.
"We're going to play our best players, and Alex is certainly one of them," said Stevens, who pointed out Barlow's improvement from the start of his freshman year to now.
A lot of that goes back to the late nights at Hinkle. When he peeks into the empty gym late at night, Stevens sees Barlow there, working on jump shots – and floaters, of course. "This kid lives in the gym," he said.
"He deserves all the credit he's getting right now, he deserves all that attention," Butler guard Rotnei Clarke said. "He's a guy who works extremely hard, doesn't care if he gets credit. That's huge. He's got tremendous character."