AAU coach: ‘Major loss’ if Darryl LaBarrie dismissed

Georgia Tech assistant basketball coach Darryl LaBarrie.
Georgia Tech assistant basketball coach Darryl LaBarrie.

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

It was easy to pick out Darryl LaBarrie, and people did.

The Georgia Tech assistant coach, put on paid leave in November as the NCAA investigates an allegation of a rules violation, had a seat by the main entrance to Morehouse College’s Forbes Arena on Monday. He was there to watch the first Dream Challenge, a showcase event for some of the top high-school talent in the state and their teams on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, played at King’s alma mater.

As they entered the arena, high-school coaches and others visited with LaBarrie, distinctive with his close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. They shared handshakes, hugs and a few words.

It spoke to LaBarrie’s popularity and connections in state basketball circles and the difficult reality that Tech may be facing as the NCAA investigation continues. Chris Williams, coach of a powerful AAU team and an organizer of the Dream Challenge, said it would be a “major loss” for coach Josh Pastner and Tech if LaBarrie were to be dismissed as a result of the NCAA’s findings.

“Pastner’s still got a great staff,” Williams said. “I think Pastner’s still a great recruiter and a great coach, but for him to have a local guy like Darryl means a lot to the program, and I’m sure it means a lot to those players now at Georgia Tech.”

Tech is still awaiting the NCAA to complete its investigation and will determine its course of action based on the findings. Speaking Friday, athletic director Todd Stansbury said there was not a timeline that the NCAA was working on to reach a conclusion.

“I think that we’re just going to wait for the process to play itself out,” he said.

The alleged violation took place during an official visit of a prospect who is now a college freshman not at Tech. People familiar with the situation and LaBarrie describe it as a mistake not consistent with his character. At the least, the length of the investigation is not encouraging for LaBarrie’s prospects.

Approached at the event at Morehouse, LaBarrie declined comment. He also has been spotted at other high-school games recently.

LaBarrie’s absence may already have cost Tech a shot at one of the nation’s top juniors, Newton High point guard Ashton Hagans, who committed to Georgia in December. Speaking Monday after leading the Rams to a win over Warner Robins High with a triple-double, Hagans said he might have chosen Tech if not for the uncertainty with LaBarrie.

Said Hagans, “I had to switch things up when he got suspended.”

ESPN rates Hagans as a five-star prospect and the No. 19 player in the class. He may reclassify and seek to graduate in 2018 to enroll at UGA in the coming academic year. Tech’s recruitment of Hagans was aided by a longtime friendship LaBarrie had with Hagans’ father, Ashton Hagans said.

“We’re real close,” Hagans said of him and LaBarrie.

It’s ties like that that made LaBarrie such an attractive hire to Pastner and a valuable member of the staff. A Decatur native, LaBarrie starred at Tucker High, played at Tech and then coached in the AAU and high-school ranks before coaching at Tech, then Georgia State and then again at Tech since May 2016.

“He does well with the kids here in the state,” Williams said. “Obviously, he’s from here, played at Georgia Tech, played AAU here and he can relate with guys like Ashton and (Westside-Macon star) Khavon Moore and those type of guys that are coming up out of the state because he’s been in their position, basically.”

Stephenson High assistant coach Rashaad Richardson can further attest. Richardson played at Georgia State when LaBarrie was on coach Ron Hunter’s staff and considers him a mentor.

“If you’re talking about Georgia high school basketball, you would want Darryl LaBarrie on your staff,” Richardson said. “He’s a guy, he’s from here, he’s a Decatur, Georgia guy, he just knows so many people.”

Pastner came to Tech with some knowledge of the Atlanta basketball scene. Assistant coach Tavaras Hardy has made inroads, as well. Julian Swartz, whom Pastner elevated from director of recruiting and compliance to assistant coach in LaBarrie’s absence, has also been on the road recruiting and, in fact, was also at Monday’s games at Morehouse.

On paid leave, with him and the Tech basketball staff barred from communicating with each other, LaBarrie can only wait. At Morehouse on Monday, he put some of his time to use talking with Richardson, his former player at Georgia State. Richardson said that LaBarrie was staying positive and trusting the process.

“He’s definitely a great role model,” Richardson said. “I couldn’t have a better person in my corner than Darryl LaBarrie.”

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