When the All-Fan team is assembled, Col. John Barrett ought not to be overlooked. He is the rarest breed of all, a fan whose loyalty is so intense he actually works to avoid watching his favorite team play. He will be the distinguished-looking fellow bolting Cole Field House tonight just before the VMI-Kentucky game.
Col. Barrett is an otherwise calm and rational man, scholar and author, in fact faculty chairman of athletics at VMI, fully capable of tolerating the agony of defeat but unable to cope with the thrill of victory.
"I've walked out of stadiums all over the country," he said yesterday, "and I will not be caught dead in here at tipoff for the Kentucky game. It's simply to much. I like to watch warmups, see the spirit build.
"But then I've got to get out. Sometimes people will stop me and I want to talk. I hate to be rude, but I simply have to say: 'I've got to go, I've got to leave here.'"
Outside, Barrett's routine rarely remains the same. Sometimes he will pace the parking lot, counting the cars. Other times, if his motel room is close enough during road games, he will watch television. When VMI beat Duquesne Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Eastern Regionals, Barrett was watching Wake Forest on television.
"When I like to do is leave just before the tipoff," he said, "then return at halftime to see what the score is, the leave again and come back in right after the game has ended.When they say VMI is ahead, it's just like somebody gave me a shot.
"I will enjoy a win just as much if I'm not there, and to see a loss hurts a lot. I've gotten so close to these teams, I feel for 'em so much."
Until about four years ago, Barrett existed in a rather ordinary way, faithfully watching VMI at home and away, suffering through defeat after but never getting disgusted. Then the Keydets turned everything around - including Barrett's stomach.
"I remember listening to a football game against (Virginia) Tech," he said, "and becoming so excited that I left home and drove off into the mountains. Then I went out during the Richmond game and they wouldn't let me back in. But we won. There's a little supersitition, I suppose, but a whole lot of it is physical, too."
Barrett, 55, a professor of history and Civil War historian of national note, began his hasty exists of VMI basketball games almost a year ago to the day, at halftime of the Eastern Regional victory over Tennessee.
"I couldn't tell for sure outside," he said, "but I got to feeling pretty good when two guys with orange coats came out of the arena mumbling and cussing. I guess I did see the final 30 seconds or so."
He arrived too soon for VMI's next game, against DePaul. He had left and returned at halftime, as usual, and thought it safe enough to return again when someone said VMI was up by six points with 90 seconds left.
"But we couldn't make any free throws and the game went into overtime," he said, "so I had to leave again, for the overtime." VMI won.
The men who changed Barett's routine - and VMI's losing trend in basketball - are Bill Blair and Charlie Schmaus. Blair coached the Keydets to the regional finals last year, then became head coach at Colorado. When all the wizards in sisted that was a fluke, Schmaus, the former assistant, took VMI to a 25-3 regular season and first-round victory over Duquesne in the regionals.
Typically, VMI is winning with players hardly any of the usual NCAA playoff teams, North Carolina, Notre Dame, UCLA, bothered to seriously recuit. Oh, there was a Dean in Ron Carter's life back in Pittsburgh, but it was not coach Dean Smith, it was a playmate, Dean Smith, it was a playmate, Dean Robinson.
Probably, most of the nation's finest recruiters did in fact see Carter. But it was out of the corners of their eyes, primary attention being devoted to such as Brad Davis, Melvin Bennett and Billy Knight's brother, Terry, During Playround games.
"At a big school," said Carter, a foot-3 junior guard-forward, "I would not have had the chance to develop what I need to develop, which was shooting, dribbling and defense. I had been cut from the team my sophomore year in high school, and just made the team as a junior.
"After my freshman year at VMI when we went 13-13, I worked basketball whenever I could. My routine was to run early in the morning, and then there'd be games in the early afternoon or evening.
"Then I'd go off, after supper, about 11 o'clock, and work out until they turned the lights out on the playground, around 2 a.m. Then I'd stay around maybe another half-hour or so."
Doing what, if the lights were out.
"Dribbing. Just dribbing. If you can dribble at 3 a.m., in the dark you don't have to look at that ball when you're dribbing in a game."
That is how Carter became the one player in all the reginnals that improved the most the quickes. That is one reason why VMI is the one team in all the reginnals that improved the most the quickes. And, yes, Barrett thought it safe to attend the team workout yesterday.
"My greatest moments," he said "are pratice."