Paul Suellentrop

Barney thrilled to join Wichita State basketball as a walk-on

Brett Barney (22) of Maize South drives around Tyler Buchanan (30) of Eisenhower in a 2014 sub-state final.
Brett Barney (22) of Maize South drives around Tyler Buchanan (30) of Eisenhower in a 2014 sub-state final. The Wichita Eagle

Brett Barney grew up watching Wichita State basketball and former Shocker Cleanthony Early is his favorite player. In a few weeks, Barney will put on Shocker practice gear and join the team for summer workouts as a walk-on.

“After being a fan all my life, I thought this would be more rewarding than anything else,” he said. “I’m blessed to have this opportunity.”

Barney (6-foot-9, 219 pounds) played at Maize South, where he earned second-team All-AV-CTL Division II honors in 2014, before spending a post-graduate season at Sunrise Christian Academy. About three weeks ago, WSU coaches expressed interest and Barney reciprocated. He visited the College of Charleston and also considered Massachusetts-Lowell, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Arkansas-Little Rock. Coaching changes complicated his future and made it easier to opt for WSU.

“It kind of happened so quick,” he said. “I just felt like (WSU coaches) would bring me along and make me a better player.”

Barney’s experience playing with Sunrise teammate Eric Hamilton, also headed to WSU, and current Shocker Rauno Nurger, also a former Sunrise player, gave him confidence to move from the Koch Arena seats, where his family has season tickets, to the court.

“I knew I could belong,” he said. “I want to come in and work hard every day. At Sunrise, they say to bring attitude and effort and that’s all you can control.”

Sunrise post-graduate coach Luke Barnwell is confident Barney will do just that. A walk-on’s job is to push the starters in practice, work hard cheerfully and without much recognition and cheer from the bench until needed in games. The reward is a roster spot on a nationally ranked team.

“He’s a joy to coach and a joy to be around,” Barnwell said. “He’s a big-bodied kid. He’s not overly athletic, but he can make up for that with his mind, his feel for the game and how hard he works.”

Mutual benefits — The addition of Dallas Baptist to the Missouri Valley Conference as a baseball-only member is such a success, it is easy to forget the drama that surrounded the move.

The MVC vetted Dallas Baptist in 2011, entered into a scheduling agreement in 2012 and 2013 as part of that close look and lost the school to the WAC for 2013. When the WAC’s geographic fit evaporated, Dallas Baptist and the MVC got back together for the 2014 season.

Two seasons in, it is clear the move worked for both parties. Dramatic proof will likely come Monday during the NCAA regional selection show.

Baseball America projects Dallas Baptist (No. 3 in the RPI) and Missouri State (No. 8) as regional hosts and they will be discussed as national seeds, due to their lofty RPI rankings. Bradley’s RPI is No. 20, a stunning rise into the at-large discussion (if needed) for one of the Valley’s weakest programs. The Valley sits at No. 5 in the RPI.

“Every time you play (Dallas Baptist) it helps your RPI,” Indiana State athletic director Ron Prettyman said Friday. “It’s good for our league, and you’re seeing that his year with the potential of getting three teams in the tournament, at a minimum.”

Prettyman was part of the contingent that visited Dallas Baptist. WSU pushed hard for its inclusion, with former coach Gene Stephenson and athletic director Eric Sexton enthusiastic about the possibilities. Adding an affiliate member is complicated and MVC members had to be convinced Dallas Baptist, an NCAA Division II school in other sports, possessed the proper credentials.

The prospect of a bus ride to Dallas concerned some schools. The prospect of adding a high-quality team to compete for an automatic bid presented another hurdle.

“It was a very difficult sell to people,” Prettyman said. “There are a lot of issues involved, everything from geographic desirability to their commitment to their program. One of the roadblocks was the fact that they are really a Division II school with one Division I program. But they run that Division I program very efficiently and effectively.”

Now all the schools are in a better baseball position because of the Patriots, who won last season’s MVC Tournament. They finished in a tie for second in 2014 and alone in second this season. Dallas Baptist benefits from locking in seven good weekend opponents, adding to its ability to play schools such as Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU in mid-week games.

“It’s been outstanding for us,” Patriots coach Dan Heefner said. “When we were an independent, we could play a really good schedule and we’d put ourselves in a position to earn an at-large bid, but then it would get really tough once conference would start, just who you could get to play. That would really hurt our strength of schedule.”

In 2009, as an independent, Dallas Baptist went 38-17 with an RPI ranked No. 37 and didn’t earn an at-large bid.

“It was because our strength of schedule was too low,” Heefner said. “That’s where I think the Valley’s helped us out a ton. Mid-week, we can play great games. Early in the season, we have control over that.”

Headed to Texas — WSU’s track and field team qualified 17 athletes for the NCAA West Preliminaries, starting Thursday in Austin.

Three will compete in multiple events — Nikki Larch-Miller in the 100-meter hurdles, long jump and 400 relay, Taylor Larch-Miller in the 100, 100 hurdles and 400 relay, and Brady Johnson in the 5,000 and 10,000. Nikki Larch-Miller has already qualified for the NCAA championships in the heptathlon with a score of 5,812 points.

Men’s throwers will be well-represented in Austin, with Skylar Arneson (hammer), Weston Cottrell (hammer), Taylor Goldsmith (hammer), Dylan Reimer (javelin), Aaron True (javelin) and Chase Pote (javelin).

▪  Eight Shockers earned All-MVC scholar-athlete honors: Breanne Borman, Kayla Deighan, Cara Detmer, Emilea Finley, Sidney Hirsch, Ebeyisa Nyandwi, Jenny Pinkston and Taylor Swanson.

Reach Paul Suellentrop at 316-269-6760 or Follow him on Twitter: @paulsuellentrop.