Robert E. Lee’s Ross Barber recently led a defense of Texas honor - on the hardwood.
The Faith 7 Bowl All-Star basketball game took place Saturday in Shawnee, Oklahoma. It is an annual event that pits an All-Star team from Texas against one from Oklahoma. It began in 1966 and Oklahoma led the overall series 35-20.
The Faith 7 Bowl got its name from the 1963 space mission in which Gordon Cooper, a Shawnee native, completed 22 orbits of the earth as the first American to spend more than a day in space.
The game is played each year as a fundraiser for Special Olympics and has featured current NBA stars such as Blake Griffin. Texas took it on the chin in 2016, losing the Faith 7 Bowl to Oklahoma, 146-101.
But Barber was not being asked to avenge that loss.
His task was to make sure Texas began a new series 1-0. Barber was a couple months removed from, in his first season at Lee, piloting the Lady Raiders to their first playoff win since 2005.
He now was being offered the opportunity to be Texas’ head coach for the inaugural Faith 7 Girls All-Star Basketball Game. Just like the boys, it would pit some of the best from Texas against some of the best from Oklahoma.
Barber said REL boys coach Alan Simmons, who himself had been a part of the Faith 7 boys all-star teams as an assistant for four years, suggested his fellow Lee coach to Faith 7 organizer Bobby Canty.
“Bobby called me and asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said absolutely,” Barber said. “The first process was finding an assistant coach.”
Barber made a phone call to Dallas Skyline’s Melonie Hopson. Ironically, it was Hopson and Skyline who had knocked Lee out of the playoffs in the area round. After Hopson accepted, Barber inquired if her best player, graduated senior guard Jaylan Gulley, would be interested in playing for the team.
Gulley had torched the Lady Raiders with a game-high 18 points and eight rebounds in Skyline’s playoff win.
Barber could only choose graduated seniors for the team. He went to ESPN.com’s Top 100 list for Texas and began “going down that list.”
The first two names were Chasity Patterson of North Shore and Chennedy Carter of Mansfield Timberview. The first was signed with Texas and Carter had signed with Texas A&M.
“You (call) and run into ‘coach, they are going to be at A&M already or Texas already,’” Barber said. “So I kept going down the list and I got to Vivian Gray.”
Gray was ranked No. 45 in the nation and led Argyle to its third-straight state basketball title. Gray was recruited by Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas, but decided to join her older sister at Division II Fort Lewis in Colorado.
“I called up Vivian and because she’s going to Fort Lewis, she’s eligible to play. I snag her and also her teammate, Madison Ralston (signed with Emporia State), who is also a McDonald’s All-American nominee.”
Barber then called up Abby Spurgin, a 6-2 post from Fredericksburg, who signed with West Texas A&M. Spurgin had averaged 18.9 points and 15.2 rebounds per game.
A longtime Waco High coach before coming to Lee, Barber reached out to his old stomping grounds to inquire about 5-11 Barbara Benson from Waco Midway. The McDonald’s All-American nominee had signed with UT San Antonio.
Barber then went to just down the street and asked Eustace graduate Sydnee Wynn if she would be interested. The 6-2 post had averaged 18.7 points and 14.7 rebounds last season. She was going to Incarnate Word and agreed to join the cause.
More of the state’s best girls said yes. Fresno State signee Alyson Gamez of Irving MacArthur, Buffalo’s Jordan Jenkins, who had just led her team to a 3A runner-up finish, and Aerial Starks, a UMass signee and McDonald’s All-American nominee from A&M Consolidated, and Addison Foster, a 5-10 playmaker from Wolfforth Frenship who had signed with Southern Nazarene.
“We had a great group of kids (overall), and so did Oklahoma,” Barber said. “They had a kid going to Oklahoma, another going to Oklahoma State; both teams were loaded.”
Barber was introduced to his All-Star team together for the first time last Friday in Shawnee, a day before the game. They practiced for an hour at the Noble Complex on the campus of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee.
Prior to the team arriving in Shawnee, the All-Stars learned that Gulley would be forced to miss the game because of family reasons. That left the Texas All-Stars one player short. It would be 9 vs. 10 for bragging rights between the two states.
Texas did not show any nerves early on, taking a 15-13 lead at the end of the first quarter. Oklahoma answered back to lead 38-35 at halftime.
Barber said he began to get a little concerned for his team’s chances in the second half.
“I looked up at one point in the third quarter and we were down 17,” Barber said.
Texas began to fight back and rallied back to take a one-point lead with 10 seconds remaining before “the kid going to Oklahoma State made a shot to tie it up.”
In the OT, both teams continued to make plays. In the end, it was Taylor Roberts, who just so happened to be the state of Oklahoma’s all-time leading scorer, who drained a 3-pointer to give the Oklahoma All-Stars a 90-87 win over the Texas All-Stars.
“It was awesome and it was a great experience; to not only represent your school in a positive light, but to also represent the state of Texas,” Barber said. “To be able to coach a variety of kids from around the state who were not only talented basketball players, but good people, it was just awesome.”
Notes: Vivian Gray led the Texas All-Stars with 34 points and 13 rebounds in the loss. … Eustace’s Sydnee Wynn finished in double figures with 13 points. … Oklahoma’s Taylor Roberts led her team with 24 points. … In the Faith 7 Bowl Boys All-Star Game, Oklahoma hit 13 3-pointers in the second half of a 140-97 win.