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Saturday, December 02, 2023
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Teach Me How to Davey

ÔBig Shot Dave' hurdles big-time odds

When the men's basketball team needs a big bucket, senior forward Dave Barnett often pipes up. "I'm going to make it if you give me the ball," he says.

He's made this proclamation four times over the past two seasons, and he's been right every time.

Barnett is a lanky, 6-foot-5 forward. He makes his sneakers look like trampolines and his knees resemble springs, but he models his game after Larry Bird. He's a local kid and a major component of the 2011-12 Buffalo Bulls.

Above all, he's an underdog with a propensity for proving people wrong. His high school coach told him: "you're not Division I material."

Through a series of unforeseen events, Barnett enrolled at UB and walked-on to the basketball team.

Rewind five years and the man who sports number 24 is far from a confident, late-game sniper. The thin 18-year-old sits on his parents' couch, not enrolled in college, not being recruited, just coasting through summer.

"I was lost," he said.

One letter changed his life.

Summer camp

Barnett had just graduated from East Aurora High School - located half an hour from North Campus - and he had no definable direction. He planned on eventually enrolling at Erie Community College and trying out for the basketball team. It was July 2007 when he got the letter.

Addressed to "David Barnett" from "University at Buffalo Basketball," he didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, the envelope didn't contain much promise - just an invitation to a summer basketball camp.

He received the letter because he was named All-Western New York honorable mention as a senior at East Aurora. It was a two-day camp that cost $150. He shrugged the letter off; it was far too steep a price for someone who thought his playing days were over. But Barnett's mother, Kim, was a bit more optimistic.

She said: "Dave, I think you should go to this," and sent her son to the camp as his graduation present. As it turned out it was not a gift, but an investment in his future. Still, she readily admits, she never thought he would wind up being a Division I basketball player.

"I didn't even know I could do it. I didn't know what I was capable of," Barnett said.

Barnett took the camp by storm, throwing down dunk after dunk and wowing the Buffalo coaching staff.

"He was extremely athletic, aggressive, strong, and long-limbed," said head coach Reggie Witherspoon. "He really surprised us. We were shocked."

Witherspoon called Barnett over and said: "son, I want you to walk on here." So he did.

Heart of a football player

Barnett always expected he'd be a college athlete. He just didn't think he'd play basketball.

Growing up he idolized his big brother, Aaron, who was the MVP of his high school football team - the 1994-95 State Champion Jamestown Raiders - and played Division III football for the Mount Union Raiders.

Barnett wanted to do just that - play college football - and it looked like he would. He was a second-team All-State defensive end as a junior. He just played basketball to pass the time until football season.

His senior season on the turf was the worst of his life. He couldn't get off blocks, he couldn't put up his usual numbers, and he garnered no interest from recruiters. Perhaps it was the pressure of impressing schools or maybe the weight of being a team leader, but Kim Barnett sees it as something else.

"I'm a firm believer in karma, fate, God's got your life," she said.

Though he's a key component on the court now, Barnett's first love will always be the gridiron. After two years at UB with minimal playing time, he considered switching sports. Former head football coach Turner Gill offered Barnett a spot on his team, but the struggling sophomore met with Witherspoon, who convinced him to stick with basketball.

And because he stuck it out, Aaron now gets to idolize his little brother. He wears his number 24 jersey to every home game.

"It's awesome. There's nothing like it," Aaron Barnett said. "Watching him from the time he was 3 years old, coaching him, and you see what he's done with the opportunity he's been given."

The origin of 'The Davey'

It's a now-famous dance move: bounce side to side, arms rhythmically twisting one at a time. Most college students know it as "The Dougie," but Dave has another name for it.

"I'm going to stop you right there. I call it 'The Davey,'" he said.

Watch the student section after he hits a 3-pointer, watch any True Blue promotional video, go to a Bulls Madness pep rally - chances are you'll see his signature move. Silly as it may sound, The Davey is what really bonded him with his teammates.

Barnett was a timid redshirt freshman who rarely saw the court in 2008. He was shy, nervous, and knew next to nothing about the men he practiced with every day. So he made a decision: he'd go downtown with his teammates. There was just one problem:

He couldn't dance. At all.

He had no idea what to do on the dance floor. He started making a funny face, moving his arms, and jigging his legs. Right then, The Davey was born. The other Bulls loved it, and he's been one of the team's most popular players ever since.

Just why do the UB faithful love him so much?

"Not because he's a star, but because he was a walk-on, and he's the hardest worker," said True Blue Vice President Cody Breite.

True Blue President Kelsey Burglund said the dance doesn't hurt either - it always gets the crowd excited.

Bear in mind that "Teach Me How to Dougie" was released in April of 2010. Jokingly ask if he invented The Dougie and Barnett will joke right back.

"I did," he laughs. "I invented The Dougie."

University connection

Dr. Nathan Daun-Barnett, Barnett's oldest sibling, is a professor at UB in the school of education. He admired Dave's choice to take on a challenging major (business in human management) while tackling the schedule of a Division I athlete, so Nathan bought his books every semester - until last year, when Barnett earned a scholarship after three years of paying for his own education.

"The bottom line is he worked his ass off to get a scholarship," Kim Barnett said.

She thinks the battle benefited Dave; he didn't have any issues with arrogance or entitlement, and he learned character through his scrap from the bottom.

"Early on I had a huge chip on my shoulder," Barnett said. "As a walk-on you don't get any respect. You have to earn it."

Witherspoon said Dave's teammates respect him for the arduous journey he's had to take to become a leader.

Like Aaron and Dave's teammates, Nathan has immense respect for his baby brother.

"Every time I sit in the stands, I just think: 'he's become a tremendous young man,'" Nathan said. "I'm proud to call him my brother."

Dancing out of the spotlight

Many college basketball players plan on trying out overseas after they graduate. Dave, though, wants to play his final game in a Buffalo uniform.

"I think this might be the last ride for me," Barnett said.

With his degree, Dave plans on looking into the sales route. He might stay at UB for his CPA in accounting.

He may not go on in life as a basketball player, but those who know him insist he'll continue to succeed because of his character.

"He's a very considerate, caring, thoughtful guy who cares an awful lot about the people he comes in contact with," Nathan said.

As much as Buffalo fans have enjoyed his entertaining career, they'd love nothing more than for Dave to go out as a Mid-American Conference champion.

He's come close twice - is this the year? Will he leave heroically?

Bulls fans will know in just 18 days.




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