Mere moments after Kansas State’s first NCAA Tournament opponent was announced Sunday, Ernie Barrett, aka “Mr. K-State,” called K-State coach Bruce Weber and rendered a plea 63 years in the making.
“This is a chance to get even with them,” Barrett on Tuesday recalled telling Weber.
This is less about a grudge than it is a void to Barrett, 84, who led the Jack Gardner-coached 1950-51 Kansas State team to the NCAA title game against Kentucky … only for K-State to fall as Barrett was stifled because of a shoulder injury.
“That’s the one game that sticks in my craw … We were a better ballclub than they were,” Barrett said over the phone from Manhattan, Kan., later lamenting, “Every time I’ve gone to the Final Four, and I’ve gone to 60 of them since I played in it … the teams that have won it have got big banners around the façade of wherever it’s played.
“And K-State’s name’s not there. Should have been.”
Perhaps it would have turned out differently if Barrett had been healthy for the only national title game K-State has reached in its four Final Four appearances, the last of which was in 1964.
K-State led 29-27 at halftime in the game played before 15,348 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, before it faded in the second half and lost 68-58.
Kentucky outrebounded Kansas State 45-30 and hit 28 of 69 field goals as K-State made just 23 of 80.
Barrett, who later became the top draft pick of the Boston Celtics, led K-State in scoring that season with 10.9 points a game, most of which came via his so-called “radar shot.”
“I enjoyed shooting the long shot, and I always shot from the corner (that was his spot) in the triangle offense that (then-assistant coach) Tex Winter put together,” he said.
But Barrett had suffered what he called a “deep shoulder bruise” from absorbing an Oklahoma State (then-Oklahoma A&M) charge in the national semifinal three days before.
“I just couldn’t raise my left arm … It really didn’t heal until about three weeks later,” said Barrett, who made two of 12 field goals in the game. “I did score two buckets, but (Gardner) took me out because I just couldn’t compete really well. …
“I was devastated that we didn’t win it.”
Barrett ultimately became a welcoming face of K-State between his time as a player, athletic director, director of development and fund-raiser, among other ambassadorial roles.
And he is immortalized with a statue that appropriately emphasizes his legendarily firm handshake.
After nearly six decades of service to the school one way or another, he retired only a few years ago.
He’s skipped the last few Final Fours because of their increasingly inhospitable sightlines in football stadiums and domes.
But he’ll be at the tournament Friday in St. Louis, where he’ll witness Midwest Regional No. 9 seed K-State taking on eighth-seeded Kentucky, which is 8-0 in the series.
“Leaving tomorrow afternoon,” Barrett said, laughing and adding, “I’ll be wearing a purple sports coat, so you won’t have any trouble finding me.”