First impressions are hard to dismiss, even for a coach like Barbara Stevens, who is entering her 37th season on the bench, the last 27 of which have been an extraordinary run with the Bentley University women’s basketball program.
She has seen, recruited, and coached a number of very talented players.
But success does not come easy. There are traditional hallmarks of coaching, and procuring talent. And in all of her years recruiting players, certain moments linger.
Like the first time that she saw Kelly Barker on the court.
“She was playing AAU, and I distinctly remember her getting a rebound and snapping an outlet pass to a kid at midcourt,” Stevens recalled. “I just said, ‘This kid is talented and strong. I think that she could be something really, really special.’ ”
Stevens didn’t waste any time in offering a scholarship to the Billerica High star, a move that certainly paid off handsomely.
By the time she departed, the 6-foot-1 forward was the top scorer in program history, with exactly 1,800 career points, a Division 2 WBCA All-American, and the second-leading rebounder (1,120). As a senior, she was the Northeast-10 Co-Player of the Year.
Each season, she raised her scoring average and field goal percentage.
Barker and former Bentley football receiver Dallas Mall, were recently inducted into the NE-10 Hall of Fame, and she will be honored Nov. 16 when the Falcons, the preseason No. 1 team in the nation, host Dowling College in the home opener Nov. 16.
The honor is just the latest post-career tribute for Barker, who has previously been inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame, as well as at Billerica High.
Judged purely on wins and losses, Barker’s impact on a program rich in success still raises eyebrows. The Falcons went a dazzling 120-12 in Barker’s four-year run, capturing a Northeast-10 Conference title each season and advancing to the Division 2 Elite Eight twice.
For a program headed by a coach who is only one of six women’s coaches to ever record 800 victories, Barker managed to carve out a uniquely dominant four-year era.
And Barker’s opponents knew it, too.
“People hated the idea of Bentley basketball because we were so dominant, but it was a sign of respect, because [opponents] knew we played at a very strong program,” said Barker, now 34 and residing in Weymouth.
“We had the right coach and the right players in the right positions.”
Barker left a mark in the hotly contested Merrimack Valley Conference as well, where she was all-MVC selection all four seasons.
“Haverhill was always winning state championships, and Methuen and Andover were up there as well,” Barker recalled.
“I think the exposure of playing in the MVC helped me and definitely made me a better player. It made me more prepared for the level of competition at Bentley.”
Barker’s varied skill set led to her spots all over the floor at Bentley.
In her first two seasons, Barker, as a trailer on the fast break, often spotted up for a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
While Stevens was at first hesitant about a center moving away from the paint, Barker ended the discussion for her.
“As a freshman, I said, ‘I’m not really sure that’s the best thing to do right now,’ ” Stevens said.
“But by sophomore year, I said, ‘OK, go ahead’ because it had become one of her best weapons. She could shoot threes like a guard, could handle the ball well, and score over people inside. She really had a complete game.”
That complete game became even more visible by senior year, when Barker assumed a predominantly inside role. Barker had adapted to every request her coach had made, and her final impact move for Bentley was becoming a sturdy post player.
“It definitely showed the low post game that she had,” Stevens said.
“She was really one of those kids that no matter where you put her on the floor, she seemed to be able to handle just about everything.”
Her scoring average as a senior (18.1) is the highest by a Bentley player in the Stevens era. Nine times that season, she had at least as many points as minutes played.