Sunday, February 26, 2006

Where They Are Today - Ken Barlow

When I managed to get to Kenny Barlow, he apologized for not answering to my interview requests before. "I thought You are a 'Mosad' agent" he was jokingly replying. Not that there is any reason for the former Maccabi Tel Aviv star to runaway from the Israeli security service. It's just that he didn't understand how did I managed to locate him, since he's not really in the basketball business anymore. Three years had passed since Barlow retired from basketball as a player from Mabo Livorno in Italy (where he played with Pappy Turgeman).

Today, at the age of 41, he invest most of his time in a company that he established with his cousin and is offering on-line information from Indiana's state high school league games.

"My cousin, Darrell Morton, who was a radio broadcasters in high school games in Indiana, and during the broadcasts people came to him and asks for updates about games that were being played simultaneously. He had troubles providing this information, and then he came up with the idea to find a technological way to provide this data in the arenas in real time. I accepted to join the project and that's how our company started 'SportsScore Network'. I am responsible for contacts with the school's principles and sponsor who is interested in taking part in this project. It's a promising project from the economic point of view, because high school is very strong in Indiana. It has basketball arenas, which is packed with thousands of fans, much more than in Israel".

Even though he is quite young, leading a business project in the field of basketball and goes to basketball games, Barlow became a stranger to the court itself. Yeah, he is coaching his two teenager sons in AAU tournaments, but he hardly pick up a ball and play, although from time to time he does play with his sons, who are getting bigger and bigger. His oldest son, Kelsey, was born just before Barlow finished his three years period in Israel, as a Maccabi star. This period started almost by chance, since he didn't manage to find himself a team in the NBA.

Barlow started his European career as a player in Trecer Milan, that he lead to the European title in 1987 while beating Maccabi. He decided to gamble on the Italian team at the age of 23, although he was picked in the first round of the 1986' NBA draft. Unfortunately for him, the Los Angeles Lakers that picked him, send him to the Atlanta Hawks in a trade, that included Billy Thompson, ex-Hapoel Jerusalem player ("Tell him he owes me a part of his championship ring with the Lakers and I am willing to give him a part of my European championship ring with Trecer in return"). Since the Hawks didn't give him the promised contract, he decided to take his career overseas, and eventually he got to Israel a year later.

"I thought that after winning the championship with Trecer, the Hawks would be willing to offer me a contract, but instead they told me stories and in the meantime I got an offer to join Maccabi in the intercontinental tournament. Since the negotiations with the Hawks took so much time, I agreed and sign for a week in Maccabi. I had a very good game with Maccabi and Shimon Mizrahi came to me and said: 'Come and stay with us till the end of the season'. Since the Hawks kept on taking their time, I agreed. I took a flight to Israel, signed a contract, and came back to Paris to finish the tournament with Maccabi".

- It looks like a very quick decision. Weren’t you afraid to come?

"Since I already played with Trecer in Tel Aviv, I knew Israel and knew there's nothing to be afraid of. I saw that the quality of life is high, everybody speaks English and the security tension is not felt in the streets. Maccabi was an elite team in Europe, so I had no problems to join it. Looking back, I really enjoyed my time in Israel. I had easy time to communicate. I loved the fans and the Israeli people in general. I understood what it means to live in the Middle East and I keep on updating with the news from that part of the world even today. Actually, I was supposed to come for the Euroleague final-four in Yad Eliyahoo in 2004, but unfortunately I couldn't come".

- At the end you stayed for two more years.

"The truth is that after the first season, Barcelona gave me a very good contract and I considered leaving. The reason I decided to stay was that LaVon Mercer signed with the team. I thought that with Mercer, Kevin Magee and me, there is no chance we won't win the European title. Eventually we were very close, but we lost to Yugoplastica Split (With young Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Dusko Ivanovic), altough we were better than them. I still feel I'm responsible to that lose. They stopped Kevin, But Mercer killed Dino Radja and we were in the game. Then, Mercer fouled out, and I needed to deal Radja on defense. He started getting hot and we lost in the end. Although I came from Italy as a champion of Europe, I didn't really understand what the meaning of this title is. I was young and inexperience. Unfortunately, when I matured and realized what is the importance of the title, I didn't manage to win it, and I feel disappointed till today"."

I 1990, Barlow was released from Maccabi, after he didn't manage to lead it to winning the European title. Barlow said it was an understandable decision. "During my last year in Maccabi, I injured my knee and didn't really recover. I felt the team can't get it done because of me. At the end of that season it was only natural they wouldn't want me back - not only because of the tough year I had, but also because it was time to refresh the roster and because they felt that need to take a new direction. I took my career to PAOK Saloniki, where I got my fitness back".

In his new Greek team, Barlow finally managed to get out of Kevin Magee's shadow, and be a leading star for the first time in his European career (In Trecer, Barlow was serving as a second string of the legendary Bob McAdoo). "From the beginning I knew Maccabi was Kevin Magee's team. He was the clear leader of the team and I accepted it. In Greece I became the leading player and managed to get PAOK the European cup winners cup in my first season and the Greek championship in my second season. I also got the chance to beat Maccabi in Greece. I didn't felt a special motivation to beat them, but I did enjoy it, because I liked Moni Fanan and Mizrahi".

Even though he had a bunch of European highlights, it seems that it was the 1988 Israeli league final series against Hapoel Tel Aviv, which left a big impression on him. "It was my best game in Maccabi. Hapoel had Mercer, Linton Townes and Haim Zlotikman, and they beat several times earlier in the season, so no one could be sure we will win it. In the three and final game of the series I was very good, I scored a lot, and we won the game and the championship. I was so happy that LaVon joined us in the summer. It was a big relief for me".

- How do you bring up the level of competition in the Israeli league?

"I guess you should give all the league teams five million dollars and leave Maccabi with a 500 thousands dollars budget. That's the only way, but its not possible. In my time, Maccabi had always the best American players, but their biggest advantage was that their always tool the best Israelis - half of the national team. The other teams need money, but they also need tradition. Let say Galil would come to me and offer me an equal contract to the one Maccabi offered me. Naturally I would pick Maccabi, because it is so well known in Europe".

From all the players he met in Israel, it seems that the local player who impressed Barlow the most was Micky Berkovic, that extended his career to the fifth decade of his life. "Through my entire career, I kept on watching the more experienced players and tried to learn from them. I was impressed from the way Berkovic was preparing himself to the games. His dedication and the way he took care of his body. He used to warm up and jump a rope before any game. Nobody else used to do it. On the court, Micky had a big heart, and he was fearless. I remember one we played against Barcelona and they were leading in two points. I was scoring 36 points and hardly missed. The coach Ralph Klein took a time out and planed a play for me, but then the ball went to Micky and he ignored the coach orders and went to the basket, scored two and was also given a foul shot, which he scored and won the game for us. I thought to myself the man has huge balls".

Barlow also has a lot of good words for Doron Jamchi, and remembers a great shooting display he had in an exhibition game in Philadelphia. "Doron feared no one. He put on a show again the Sixers and almost didn't miss from three. Charles Barkley and Maurice Cheeks, who used to play for the Sixers back then, were shocked".

Barlow also recalls some great players he had to play against. "I never encountered a player like Drazen Petrovic, that was unstoppable. I remember playing against Cibona Zagreb and I told Motti Aroesti he have to kick him, so he would stop torturing us. McAdoo and Niki Galis were also incredible players and also Townes, whom I had to guard in the Tel Aviv derby, and I had a lot of trouble doing so. I was also impressed with the smart game of Nadav Henefeld, who used to play in Galil Elyion".

- Did you heard about the new Pacers palyer, Sarunas Jasikevicius?

"I go to some of the Pacers home games during the season and familiar with the teams. I did heard about the new guy (Barlow spears his teeth...), who took Maccabi to the Euroleague title. In my opinion, he will have a tough time settling in, since there are already three point guards in the rotation. Jamaal Tinsley is a good player and he will keep the starting job. I will take some time for him to adjust to the NBA game and to put himself in a position to fight for minutes. I presume that if he will prove himself, he will get a chance in his second season".

Talking about the NBA, Barlow says he never encountered any team outside the American professional league that had the same standards of management like Maccabi. "During my 16 years in Europe, I never met a top class organization like Maccabi" claims Barlow, "They let you concentrate in Basketball, and you don't need to deal with other stuff. It's pretty rare. In all the teams I played for, there were some troubles outside the court. In my case, In Israel I had only friends outside the court, like the businessman Mark Zinman and Lazy Gordon. The only thing I didn't like was the food.

- How come? The cliché' says "I love humus".

"Well, I guess I'm the expectance. I really hate humus".


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