By Chris Kowalczyk
Andrea Barbour doesn't like interviews. It's nothing personal. She's just not comfortable talking about herself. She talks in a low, indifferent tone. Her eyes often drift towards the floor. Her uneasiness is obvious. At least she now knows how VCU's opponents feel. Since joining the Rams on the court this season, Barbour has been making other teams squirm.
Through 18 games, Barbour, once an ACC All-Rookie selection at Virginia Tech, is averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and more than two steals and assists per game. A 5-foot-10 junior guard, Barbour is a matchup nightmare. With her size and length, she can play nearly any position on the floor. She's bigger than most guards, but quicker than most post players.
A transfer from Patrick Henry Community College, Barbour had to sit out the fall semester in order to catch up on academic credits. VCU is 13-5 since she suited up in late December. Teamed with potential All-America candidate Courtney Hurt, the Rams have arguably the most potent 1-2 punch in the Colonial Athletic Association.
"I think anybody that watches us knows she changes our team, she impacts our team," said VCU Head Coach Beth Cunningham. "We knew that's something she was going to do."
Barbour's play is one of the reasons the Rams (17-10, 12-5 CAA) will be a contender at the CAA Championship March 10-13 in Upper Marlboro, Md. VCU has clinched the No. 4 seed and a first round bye. The Rams will be seeking their first CAA crown.
The Barbour-VCU union is even more remarkable considering the number of roadblocks that almost prevented it from happening. Barbour's journey to VCU was a circuitous one, a study in youthful, sometimes irrational mistakes made in haste and her road to redemption.
Barbour had finally reached her breaking point. This place was too far from home, both figuratively and literally. She tried to make it work, tried to find comfort, she says. But it never happened.
In October of 2008, a little over a month into her sophomore year at Virginia Tech, she tore out of Blacksburg, Va. So eager to leave town, Barbour never even bothered to pack up her room. She just left behind her belongings and never looked back.
"I was just really homesick for some reason," Barbour said. "I guess it's just being really immature."
Barbour, who starred Charlottesville High School, verbally committed to Virginia Tech before she'd ever stepped on campus. She was one of the top recruits in the country. Blue Star rated her the 23rd best player in her class. The allure of playing in the ACC had a blinding effect. When she finally did visit the campus, she wasn't completely comfortable, but liked her coaches and teammates. She could make it work. No problem.
It didn't turn out that way. Barbour was outstanding on the court for the Hokies as a freshman, averaging 15.0 points and 3.6 rebounds to earn ACC All-Rookie Team honors. According to Barbour and VCU Coach Beth Cunningham, she was also in good standing academically.
Barbour considered transferring over the summer of 2008, but talked herself into returning to Virginia Tech. By October, she'd realized that she'd made a mistake. Barbour was in such a rush to leave that she didn't even unregister from her fall semester classes. It was a snap decision steeped in immaturity and desperation that almost derailed her college career. It's also one Barbour says she regrets deeply.
Barbour spent the remainder of the year working at Buford Middle School and playing in a Charlottesville women's league. In 2009, Barbour enrolled at Patrick Henry Community College. Patrick Henry was fielding a women's basketball team for the first time, but Barbour's best friend and high school teammate, Kendra Allen, was headed there and she felt comfortable.
At Patrick Henry, Barbour was a woman among girls. She averaged nearly 24 points and seven rebounds a game and was named the Region X Player of the Year. She scored 45 points in the Division II National Semifinal against Kankakee Community College, one game after dropping 35 points and 12 rebounds in a national quarterfinal contest. Barbour even posted a triple-double during the season with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
A SECOND CHANCE
Barbour, who won a state championship on the Siegel Center floor in 2007, joined VCU this past summer. Her signing was, on paper, a major recruiting coup for the Rams. During her first few years at the helm, Cunningham had managed to score big with lesser-known recruits with high ceilings, such as Quanitra Hollingsworth and Krystal Vaughn. But Barbour represented something else entirely.
But Barbour's signing came with a caveat, however. Her decision to abruptly lead Virginia Tech, without unregistering for her fall classes, wrecked her transcript.
In order to play for VCU, Barbour would have to hit the classroom hard. She needed to earn enough credits to get back on pace towards graduation. During the fall semester, Barbour took 21 credits, a massive load for a student-athlete. It was a tall order, but one Barbour knew was necessary. This was likely her last shot at playing Division I basketball.
"It was tough," Barbour said. "It was so much work because I had to write so much. I've never done that much work in my life. It was tough, but it was something I had to do."
"When she signed with us last year, we really laid out a plan for her," Cunningham. "We were really specific in what she needed to do if she wanted an opportunity to play Division I college ball again. It wasn't just about VCU, it was about her future, no matter where she was. She was in a position where if it was important enough for her, she was going to find a way to get it done."
Barbour's schedule, which included a couple of online classes, was jammed with basketball practice, study halls and tutoring sessions. There were times when Barbour thought she would never get through it all, but by the end of the semester, she was in good standing academically. The experience has given Barbour a newfound perspective.
"I learned not to take stuff like for granted, because you can lose it at any time," Barbour said. "I could've lost all of this, for real. I could've given up, but I didn't."