Today’s print story introduced readers to the Maryland men’s basketball scout team, the players tasked with mimicking opposing teams and showing their tendencies against the regulars during practice. One of those players is Spencer Barks, a junior forward from Poolesville. Not enough has been written about Spencer Barks. He does not play much and, like many scout-team players, goes unnoticed to the majority of fans. It’s time to change that.
1) University of New Hampshire almost got his services
Barks was a two-time all-IAC honoree at St. Albans and fielded plenty of Division II and Division III interest. But his college decision came down to Maryland and New Hampshire, right around the time that Gary Williams retired. Barks was supposed to be a preferred walk-on under the legendary coach, but figured that the sudden departure meant the spot would be promised elsewhere by the new regime.
So Barks visited New Hampshire, which competes in the America East Conference. He was ready to commit, too, until he learned the Wildcats were trying to bring in another recruit. In that two-day span, Barks received a call from College Park. It was Mark Turgeon, the new Terrapins head coach, and Dustin Clark, his director of basketball operations. They wanted to know if Barks wanted to be a preferred walk-on for them, meaning he could possibly be put onto scholarship down the road. Barks accepted immediately.
“The whole cliché Maryland, ACC basketball, you can’t turn it down,” Barks said. “I think when you have the opportunity to go and be the man somewhere, or you can go to a place that has great history, great traditions, being a part of the Maryland-Duke game, saying I beat Duke twice is something I could never said I did at New Hampshire, even if I got good numbers there. Being a part of a legacy like Maryland out-beats a place like New Hampshire in my opinion.”
This year, before his junior season began, Barks was put on scholarship.
2) He’s improved a lot since freshman year and has big ups.
“A guy like Spencer,” Turgeon said recently. “The first couple weeks of practice I was like, ‘I hope he doesn’t hurt anybody.’ ”
Like most walk-ons, Barks doesn’t play much. Over three years, he’s appeared in 19 games and scored seven points. This season, he scored his first and only points against Virginia Tech. But he has still become a better basketball player in practice, having survived nearly three seasons of mentally tough scout team work, like learning the plays of consecutive opponents over three days. He is also capable of throwing down slams with the best of them.
“Spencer is arguably one of the most athletic kids on our team, getting the highest above the rim,” guard Jake Susskind said. “He’s dunked on Alex [Len], Chuck [Mitchell], Evan [Smotrycz] once.
3) His game-day routine is very specific
It is irrational and not the least bit malicious. Before every game, for reasons unexplained, Barks picks out someone on the opposite team to hate. Maybe it’s a player who earned it with cockiness, but mostly it’s because Barks just happened to settle on him that particular night.
Asked to name examples, Barks rattled off two ACC big men. I asked if that had any correlation to the fact that he was assigned the roles of those players during scouts this season.
“That might actually stem from the fact that I was like, ‘Hey, I play you better than you play yourself,’ ” Barks said, laughing. “At least I try to think so. Obviously it’s a little different because he’s on the court. Sometimes it’s just someone random. It might even be a coach on the other team.”
Other bench activities include, as mentioned in the story, pulling one another’s shorts. Once, during his freshman season, he and Susskind gave one fan a round of applause, because he attended every game and always sat in the same seat.
4) Pranking people is fun
Susskind, because his reactions can be so gratifying to watch, is a prime target of Barks. The sock of rice mentioned in the story now sits in sophomore Conner Lipinski’s locker. When one is showering, the other will swipe a towel. Sticking Susskind’s clothes in the refrigerator is a common one. “Oh, that’s weird how those things happened,” Barks said when told Susskind had mentioned being cold. “I guess he misplaced his clothes. I don’t know how that happened.”
“Well Spencer is just a goon,” Susskind said. “You can see it from what he’s done in the past and what he probably will do in the future. But he’s a good kid at heart.”
It is for these reasons that Susskind’s father calls the pair “an old married Jewish couple,” according to Barks.
“I figure being a married couple suffices,” Barks said.” But I’ll do this thing, if he’s showering, I’ll take his shoes, you know how chairs sometime have the arm rest, it makes no sense but I’ll take the shoes and stick them on there, so his shoes are hanging off there so that way he knows I did something with his clothes.”
5) Getting pranked is fine too
“One day, Jake put my clothes behind a trash can,” Barks said. “I couldn’t find them anywhere. I’m running around the locker room, basically naked, not sure where any of my stuff is because he took my towel too. I was like, ‘Look Jake I know you took it, just tell me where it is.’ I spent the next 10 minutes wandering around the locker room, trying to find my clothes.”
6) Giving autographs once made his day
Every Maryland player appears on at least one poster handed out to certain fans during games. When Barks’s turn came, he spent several minutes during warmups signing his likeness for folks in the student section. Unlike some of his higher-profile teammates, Barks can sneak around campus without getting noticed as a basketball player. Because of this, whenever he does get noticed, he tries to stay and chat for a while.
“That was probably one of the best parts of the years, when my poster came out and people actually wanted my signature,” Barks said. “It was cool, knowing people actually know who I am and want my signature, which was very cool.”
7) A media career is in his future
Maybe media relations. Definitely something with sports. He has thought about being a graduate assistant. Whatever, he has one more year left to figure that out.
“Definitely worked out different options,” Barks said. “I haven’t made a huge dedication towards one thing. I have a little bit of time. I’m not too stressed about it.”
8) He is aware that he is a meme
Credit the folks over at Testudo Times for popularizing this. Over the summer, when the Maryland men’s basketball team visited the Bahamas for its three-game foreign tour, trip highlights were logged and uploaded to YouTube.
Barks’s voice begins before you see him, around the 1:30 mark, as the players are stepping off the team bus and into the luxurious resort. Barks is last and fist-bumps a greeter. Then it cuts to a shot of the aquarium, synced up with Barks, who is now talking about that aquarium.
“I feel like a little kid, this is embarrassing,” he says. “We’ve got, like, there’s, like, an aquarium over there, there’s beaches, there’s, like, I saw a stingray, walking in here, like, you know what I mean?”
It should be noted that it was Barks walking, not the stingray.
Anyway, the shot then cuts to Barks, standing in an atrium. First he looks into the camera, answering a question, then starts looking away, as if the excitement had overwhelmed his brain and made him unable to focus. His reaction wasn’t planned, he would say later. It was just genuine glee.
“There’s just so much room,” Barks says, either repeating it for emphasis or because he wanted to try it in double speed. “There’s so much room for activities!”
Barks knows he might be forever associated with that last line, at least in the eyes of Maryland fans. After the Bahamas tour, he started receiving text messages from friends. They all wanted to know the same thing. “Oh, how many activities have you been doing?”
9) He is also aware that he is a GIF
Since the games didn’t count and the stats didn’t matter, Barks might as well have been the most valuable player from the Bahamas tour. During one game, he delivered a GIF-worthy celebration that Terps fans employ on Twitter basically after every dunk the team makes.
After Dez Wells threw one down, the camera, clearly having learned that following Barks is visual gold, zooms onto the Maryland sideline. Barks grabs his head with both hands, like he can’t comprehend the magnitude of what just happens. Then he drops them, cocks the right arm back, makes a face like he’s imitating a ghoul and half-dunks, half-pumps his fist.
Barks is aware of this, too.
“Some friends told me about it, but I didn’t realize the buzz that it apparently has been causing,” he said. “The way I look at it, I’m not trying to do it for the attention. It’s just how I am. I’m a silly kid. I didn’t appreciate having people write me on Facebook, message me, text me, ‘Oh you’re a GIF now, blah blah blah.’ I’m just like what are you talking about? I had no idea what was going on.
“Then I looked some of it up. I was like, ‘Oh wow.’ ”