MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Gonzaga forward Drew Barham won’t need directions getting around Memphis, but he could use some pointers finding the visitor’s locker room at the FedEx Forum.
Barham’s natural inclination would be to head for the home dressing quarters, where he spent a portion of his three years with his hometown Memphis Tigers, who entertain Gonzaga tonight in a game that looms large for both programs’ NCAA tournament credentials.
Barham has hit up teammates for tickets that will take care of roughly 20 family members. He wishes he had more because he’s received ticket requests from friends for three weeks leading up to the game, which is part of ESPN’s College GameDay.
“Not many kids get the opportunity to do something like this, to go back home and play in front of fans that you played for and play against former teammates,” Barham said. “It’s just cool to be on both sides. I’ve never been to the visitor’s locker room.”
Barham is in rare company when one considers he started as a Memphis sophomore against the Bulldogs at the Spokane Arena. Other GU-foes-turned-Zags include Erroll Knight (Washington), Richard Fox (Colorado) and Dan Dickau (UW).
“We stayed at the Davenport, I guarded Elias (Harris),” Barham said. “Our point guard hit a shot with 10 seconds left and we won (by four). I remember the fans being electric. I never thought I’d end up that far away from home.”
Barham’s basketball journey is packed with interesting twists and turns. It’s taken him around the world, but the launching point was Memphis. His dad, a commodities trader, and mom, a teacher, along with two older sisters and several aunts and uncles reside in Memphis.
Barham played at Christian Brothers High, where he once hit eight 3-pointers and scored 27 points in one quarter. He originally committed to Southern Illinois, but had second thoughts after a staff shakeup. Memphis also had a shakeup as John Calipari departed for Kentucky. Josh Pastner replaced Calipari and, after an agonizing waiting period, Barham signed with the Tigers.
“It had been a dream of mine to play there,” he said.
But the dream didn’t quite materialize on the court.
“We were thinking it would be more of an Arizona style (where Pastner had been an assistant),” Barham said. “I had a great time, but it just wasn’t a great fit. I wasn’t excelling or learning.”
He found what he was looking for at Gonzaga. Barham, twice on the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, was eligible immediately after graduating from Memphis in three years.
“It was the complete opposite of what I came from,” he said. “The coaches were like father figures, the style of play was ball movement and setting screens. I thought, ‘Man, this was the place I want to come to.’ ”
Barham has joined Athletes in Action for tours of Asia and Europe. His squad defeated teammate Przemek Karnowski’s Polish junior national team a few years ago.
“We ended up staying at the same hotel,” Barham said. “He took me in his car and we went to McDonald’s and got some food and toured the city. I told him if everything works out I might see you in a month or two at Gonzaga.”
Barham was a reserve at small forward last season but made significant contributions over the second half of last season. The 6-foot-7, 200-pound Barham slid over to the ‘4’ this season to supplement a thin frontcourt.
Barham played extended minutes when Sam Dower Jr. was limited by a lower back injury. He hit three 3-pointers in the first half Wednesday as the Bulldogs built a 22-point lead against Portland.
He’s averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 19.3 minutes. His 48 percent 3-point accuracy leads the team. His 46 overall 3-pointers rank second.
“First of all, he’s an unbelievable person and a great teammate,” GU coach Mark Few said. “And that shot of his is something. It’s a weapon and he’s found it more this year. He’s a little more aggressive hunting it.”
Barham, who will celebrate Senior Night at Gonzaga next week, gets something of a head start tonight.
“As soon as the game was scheduled, (Memphis director of operations) Eric Sebastian texted me, ‘Hey Drew, we’re giving you a Senior Night after all.’ That meant a lot to me.”