Tony Barone passed away earlier this week at the age of 72.
Barone wasn’t a great Duke player. He wasn’t even a starter. But he overcame some real adversity to become a major contributor for Vic Bubas’ last great Duke team.
Barone was a native of Chicago. We correctly associate Mike Krzyzewski with recruiting successes in Illinois, his home state. But Gary, Indiana’s Vic Bubas knew his way around the Land of Lincoln. Bubas recruited Hack Tison, Ron Wendelin, Dave Golden, Fred Lind, Ray Kuhlmeier and John Posen from Illinois.
But these guys were from the Chicago suburbs or small towns like Peoria (Wendelin) or Pekin (Golden). Barone was a Chicago kid, so much that he was all set to go to Loyola before Bubas swept in and swept him away.
Barone was quick and a skilled defender. But he was only 5-8, the shortest player Bubas ever recruited. I can’t come up with any shorter recruited player in the ensuing five decades.
Barone was a member of a huge class that also included post players Mike Lewis and Warren Chapman, forwards Joe Kennedy and Tim Kolodziej and fellow guard Ron Wendelin.
Freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity play in those days. The freshmen team should have been the perfect opportunity for Barone to make a statement.
Unfortunately he contracted a case of meningitis, so severe that he had to drop out of school. His career was imperiled, maybe even his life.
Barone recovered and made up the classes in summer school. But he had lost valuable time on the court. He barely played on Duke’s 1966 Final Four team, scoring only three points in nine games.
The next season wasn’t much better, six points in 12 games.
Barone had no illusions about playing at the next level. But he wanted to stay in the game.
I had a chance to talk to Barone a few years back about his Duke career.
“I was a double major at Duke,” he told me. “English and basketball. I was a pain in the ass. I tried to absorb as much as I could from the coaches.’
He also got into the rotation in 1968, his senior year. He was Wendelin’s back-up at point. Golden was the primary shooting guard. So, an Illinois trio on a 22-6 team that ended the season at 22-6.
In fact, this team had six players from Illinois.
Barone played in 25 games, scoring 60 points. He even had a 14-point game in a 103-76 win over Wake Forest.
He stuck to his plan to coach, first at the high-school level, then two years as an assistant at Duke, the first under Bucky Waters, the second Neil McGeachy’s sole year as head coach in 1974.
Waters told me that Barone’s “feistiness” was a key to Barone’s persona. “He had a spark about him. He was bright and tough, with no alibis.”
Bill Foster brought in his own staff. But Barone landed on his feet, back in the high-school ranks, then as an assistant at Bradley. Barone went 102-82 as head coach at Creighton (two NCAA appearances) and 76-120 at Texas A&M. He had a successful run in the Memphis Grizzlies front office and coached them for a portion of the 2006-2007 season, going 16-36.
But Barone never forgot his years at Duke.
“The people I met at Duke were at the top of the spectrum,” he told me. “I was in awe all four years. I built some great relationships there. Duke was great for me.”
RIP, Tony Barone.
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