Barrett ready for Big Dance as Gaels head into March Madness

Barrett drives the ball in a Cleveland State match-up (Photo by Tod Fierner/SMC Athletics)

Luke Barrett has learned a lot in his four years at St. Mary’s College. The redshirt junior swingman came to the Gaels as a walk-on after a stellar career at Piedmont High School, leading the Highlanders to the first North Coast Section boys basketball championship in school history. He then played exactly one minute of what became a redshirt season.

“When I got here, I realized I wasn’t going to be good enough to have the ball in my hands like I did at Piedmont in high school and my whole life,” Barrett said. “There’s at least five or six guys better than me. You have to find where you can fit in and where you can get yourself on the court.

“I’m getting on the court thanks to toughness and energy and defense. I had to change my game to other ways I can help out with. Mainly be a spark off the bench who can rebound and plays harder than anyone.”

Barrett drives the ball in a St. Mary’s-UOP game (Photo by Tod Fierner/SMC Athletics

Barrett has found himself on the court. He is one of the top substitutes for St. Mary’s, averaging 17 minutes per game. His totals are modest compared to what he did at Piedmont — Barrett is averaging 5.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

“There are certain things I can control, even if I’m not as skilled as some of the other players, to keep myself on the court,” Barrett said. “I think mentally I had to get a toughness that I didn’t have at Piedmont. It helps to be a walk-on. I had to go out there with a chip on my shoulder. I have to kind of remind myself every game that that has to be my approach. Rather than in high school when I could just roll the ball out there.”

St. Mary’s won the West Coast Conference regular season and postseason tournament titles this year. The Gaels are 26-7 and will open the NCAA tournament on March 22 against Grand Canyon University (7:05 p.m., truTV). A win would earn a second round match on March 24 with the winner of Alabama-Charleston.

Barrett hits a layup versus San Diego (Photo by Tod Fierner/SMC Athletics)

“The past two years, we won the first one, lost the second one,” Barrett said. “The goal is to get to that second weekend at least. I think it’s simple. What we’re trying to do is just not look ahead and not forget what got us here.”

It’s been an interesting journey. St. Mary’s lost five of its first eight games, then won 21 of the next 22. The Gaels are currently ranked 15th in the country by the Associated Press.

“It started off like we might have one of the worst years we’ve had,” Barrett said. “Now, we’ve turned it around and had one of the best seasons.

“I was expecting to do what we did this season. I wasn’t expecting to have it the way it happened. We didn’t expect to lose a couple of the games we lost but then we turned it around and had a huge winning streak. We wanted to win the conference and then win the conference tournament.”

Barrett prepares a jump shot versus KSU (Photo by Tod Fierner/SMC Athletics)

Barrett has continued to develop into the sixth man role. He got his first collegiate start on Feb. 15 at home against Pepperdine. He scored a career-high 19 points at home on Dec. 29 against Kent State, one of six games he scored in double-figures. He has shot 47 percent (61 of 130) from the field on the year. For the Kent State performance, he was named WCC Player of the Week. He also was put on scholarship before the 2022-23 season.

Plus, he was named to the WCC all-academic team. He’ll graduate with a degree in Communications at the end of the year and is looking into graduate school so he can take his final season of eligibility with St. Mary’s.

“One of the first things I was told when I got to college is try to leave the program in a better place than when you started,” Barrett said. “I kind of just lucked out on this place being local and me having a relationship with the coaches. I wasn’t getting recruited by any of the D1 schools seriously. This opportunity just fell into my lap. I don’t think there’s any other program that would have more than this. The only thing left is to make a deep run.”

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