UPS Loggers’ Barber now agrees with the notion of motion

Schooled in the dribble-drive offense, the UPS guard is starting to embrace – and succeed in – the motion system

todd.milles@thenewstribune.comFebruary 27, 2014 

If the original plan had stuck, Erin Barber likely would be on a sun-soaked practice field this week at Azusa Pacific University in California learning how to become a starting college quarterback.

And he certainly would be paying closer attention to what his brother, Sean, was doing next week — holding his professional football workout day at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

Sometimes the best-laid routes are the ones repaved.

Barber is not a football player anymore — and the University of Puget Sound is thankful for it. He is now the starting off guard for the Loggers’ men’s basketball team, which faces Whitman College in the Northwest Conference tournament semifinals Thursday night in Walla Walla.

And the 6-foot sophomore from Puyallup gives the offense a real shot in the arm with his ability to dribble, weave and dish or shoot in the lane.

He is the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.1 points a game, and was named to the all-NWC second team earlier this week.

“Barber’s favorite play is ‘15’ — and it is a dribble-drive play,” UPS coach Justin Lunt said. “Many times in a game, he will say, ‘Coach, let’s go with 15, 15, 15.’ ”

Until this season, this is the sole brand of basketball Barber has known. In 2007, when the teenager was a star at Edgemont Junior High School, new Puyallup High School coach Scott Campbell had already put in his dribble-drive offense at all levels.

A year later, Barber funneled into the Vikings’ program. That is where the real education began.

“First thing (Campbell) said was, ‘No jump shot — just layups and 3-pointers,’ ” Barber said. “And also, jump-stopping became the important thing in his offense.”

The system fit Barber’s skills: He was quick up and down the court. He could defend a ballhandler the length of the court. And with the basketball in his hands, he was wiry strong enough to get inside small creases and do damage in the lane.

No wonder Campbell suggested that Barber look at up-tempo UPS right out of high school in 2011 — and again a year later when he decided to leave Azusa Pacific.

“I really missed basketball,” Barber said.

Barber transferred to UPS last season as a redshirt freshman. He played in 25 games off the bench, averaging almost 14 minutes a game.

But it was during the last offseason that Lunt dropped a bombshell: UPS was switching from a dribble-drive offense to a motion offense.

“I had never run a motion offense in my entire life,” Barber said. “I am pretty open to new ideas and trying new things, but I was not too happy ... about slowing down the offense. I mean, no guard would be excited about that.”

It was an interesting decision, to say the least, for Lunt, too. The coach’s whole background at the university, whether it was as an assistant under former coach Eric Bridgeland or running his own show, was under the dribble-drive premise.

“I knew for a lot of the guys the change would be difficult,” Lunt said. “It meant guys would have to pass, play off the post and get good spacing. A guy like Erin was used to catching (the basketball), ripping and going.”

At times early this season, the UPS offense was downright awful and inefficient.

“We really held tight on the leash,” Lunt said.

Once players started becoming more familiar — and comfortable — at the start of the conference season, UPS surged from the back of the pack to challenge for the lead. The Loggers finally settled on being the third seed to the playoffs.

“I’ve learned to like it a lot,” Barber said of the motion offense. “It works perfectly for us.”

Barber is playing his best basketball now. Over the past 12 games, he has averaged 15.8 points a game, including a career-high 33 points at George Fox University on Jan. 25.

Lunt has given a little back, too. He now allows Barber to plug back in to some of his dribble-drive tendencies within the controlled offense.

“The biggest thing for Erin ... was to find when to play that way,” Lunt said. “He has had a great feel when to do that. That is why he has been so successful the second half of conference season.”

Yes, Barber admits he has had to allow himself to become somewhat “brainwashed” over the new offense. But he is now the No. 2 option in it behind senior Rex Nelson, and figures to be a more prominent scorer over the next two seasons.

“The thing I love about coach Lunt, he gives you a lot of freedom,” Barber said. “If he sees you do what he says well, he has no problems. And if I now see a driving lane, he says, ‘Go ahead and take it.’ That is what keeps players happy.

“This offense has evolved over time, and it has gotten better and better. We have learned to develop within it. Everyone has had to figure out the role and how to play it.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442

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