Mike Barrett, RIP

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Mike Barrett, RIP

Postby rlee » Wed Aug 10, 2011 5:13 am

Olympic gold medalist Barrett passes away
By Dave Morrison

Mike Barrett, who rose to fame at West Virginia Tech and won an Olympic Gold Medal with the U.S. in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, passed away Tuesday after a battle with cancer.

Barrett, who lived in Nashville, was 67.

“It’s not only a sad day for West Virginia Tech, but for the state as a whole,” West Virginia University Tech coach Bob Williams said. “I know he was always concerned with what was going on at Tech. He was always willing to pitch in. He was real supportive of the program, and he obviously loved his alma mater.”

“They don’t make people like him,” said his friend and fellow Richwood native Pat Hanna, a former Beckley Newspapers employee. “As great a basketball player as he was, he was a better person.”

That is the general perception of the man who was nicknamed “Bird Man.”

Barrett was born on Sept. 5, 1943, in Montgomery, where he would return and rise to glory under legendary coach Neil Baisi two decades later. Barrett helped lead the Golden Bears to back-to-back West Virginia Conference titles in 1964-65.

Following two seasons at Tech, Barrett joined the Navy and continued to play for several Navy-based teams.

He tried out for the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 and made the squad. That U.S. team was led by Spencer Haywood and Jo Jo White and went on to win the gold.

The U.S. beat Yugoslavia 65-15 in the Gold Medal game. Barrett had 10 points in a win over Brazil in the semifinals, and he had 12 in a preliminary round victory over Italy.

Barrett broke onto the basketball scene at Richwood High School.

In 1962, he was one of four seniors who led the team to an 18-3 record. They lost to Elkins in the regional final back in the days when only four teams advanced to state tournament play. He averaged 18 points per game that season.

Hanna said the former American Basketball Association star helped the 2009 undefeated football team get a chartered bus to take the squad to Man during its run to the Class A semifinals and also helped the basketball team get uniforms.

He donated his white Olympic uniform and gold medal to West Virginia Tech and his blue Olympic uniform to Richwood High School.

“He was an amazing person,” Hanna said. “He never forgot where he came from, very humble, very gracious.”

Barrett went on to play for the Washington Capitals, Virginia Squires and San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA from 1969-1973, He was an all-ABA Rookie League selection in 1970 and averaged 13.4 points per game over his ABA career.

Hanna recalled the story of Barrett losing his Olympic ring and it being returned to him nearly 20 years later by attorneys Sean O’Malie, who found the ring, and Bruce Deming, who located Barrett.

Williams said the competitive Barrett was also a great tennis player, traveling the country and playing in tournaments. Two years ago, he played in the Tech alumni game, and he was the first player to have his Tech jersey retired.

“Not only was he one of the greatest players in Tech history, he was one of Tech’s greatest sons,” Williams said. “I know he came to see us when we played at Western Kentucky a few years ago. And he would come out and see the football team. He just loved his alma mater.”

Barrett and Jerry West are the only two West Virginia players to win a gold medal in basketball.
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