Darrell Barley was a shy, skinny Canisius College freshman, wandering the hallways of the Koessler Center, when he saw the Hall of Fame plaques on the wall outside the basketball arena for the first time.
"Some day," Barley whispered to himself, "I'll be up there with those guys."
The truth is, Barley hadn't wanted to go to Canisius. As a star at Rochester East, he had dreamed of playing in some major program. His friends had never heard of Canisius.
But a first-year coach named John Beilein changed his mind. Beilein promised Barley he would be a four-year starter and play four positions. One day, he'd look back and be very proud.
"I still have the letter he wrote me," Barley said by phone Wednesday.
Beilein was true to his word. Barley became a star for the Golden Griffins, who won 62 games in a three-year run from 1993-96. Barley, 6-foot-5, made three all-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference teams and was MAAC player of the year in '96, when Canisius earned a long-awaited NCAA bid.
On Saturday, Barley and fellow '96 grad Micheal Meeks will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at halftime of a game with Marist. Meeks, the school's No. 2 career scorer, flew in from Germany, where he plays pro. Beilein, the West Virginia coach, is expected to fly in for a reception after a noon game at Cincinnati.
There were a lot of good players on those great Griffs teams. Craig Wise went into the Hall last year. Meeks played on Canada's Olympic team and has had a long pro career. But Barley was Beilein's prize recruit, a quick, versatile player. He and Meeks were ideal for Beilein's system, which favors smart big men who play away from the basket.
"I just got off the phone with Meeks about 10 minutes ago," said Barley, now a high school coach at Rochester East. "He said a lot of guys overseas still remember us. They say we could have played at a higher level. The most satisfying part was it wasn't a one-man show.
"It wasn't all about scoring points. I was just as happy making a pass, a rebound or a steal. I wanted to win. We knew if we won, we would all benefit."
In '93-94, the Griffs won 16 games in a row and 22 in all. The next year, they had six road wins against teams that made the NCAA tournament. After losing in the MAAC tourney, they made the Final Four of the NIT, beating Washington State at Memorial Auditorium.
Barley was having an MVP year in '95-'96 when he broke his right thumb late in the year. He watched from the sidelines as Meeks led the Griffs to a MAAC title. Barley played with a pin in his thumb in a loss to Utah in the NCAAs. He had a solid rookie season in the CBA, but he gave up his NBA dream after contracting a kidney infection.
"Then one day I went to a basketball game at Rochester East," said Barley, who majored in education at Canisius. "The principal asked if I wanted to teach. He gave me the worst class in the school. Freshmen repeaters. I thought, 'Welcome to the working world.' "
Barley became a coach, husband and father. He married his high school sweetheart, Keturah, a nurse. They have three young sons. He's in his fifth year as head coach at Rochester East, which has won three straight City-Catholic titles.
Barley said he has adopted some of Beilein's methods. He admires Beilein for his loyalty, imagination and toughness, his ability to get the best out of a player. He won't rule out college coaching, but he feels he was meant to coach in high school.
"I want to show the kids here you can make it," he said. "You don't have to make the NBA to be successful. You can use basketball as a vehicle. Everybody's not going to listen to you. But if I can reach just one, I guess I've done my job."