By John Wilbert/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Going back to their college days at Ole Miss, Rod Barnes and Grant Pate shared two goals. The former college player and the former team manager both wanted to be basketball coaches, and they both believed Ole Miss could win a national championship in basketball.
“We always talked about: Hey, one day, if we get a chance, we believe we can take the program to the next level,” said Barnes, now a head coach at Georgia State University in Atlanta.
During the 1987-88 season, Barnes was playing for Ole Miss while Pate served as the team’s manager. They soon formed a close bond that would extend into today.
“We always talked about winning a championship, and being able to come back to Ole Miss in the future and lead them to a championship,” said Pate, who just finished his second season as Tupelo High’s head boys coach.
While Barnes later became the head coach and Pate an assistant at Ole Miss, they fell short of achieving their title-winning aspirations. The closest they came to winning a national title came in 2001 when the Rebels made it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Arizona.
Five years later, they were let go as coaches after the program struggled through its fourth consecutive losing season.
“We had accomplished quite a lot,” said Pate, who invited Barnes to speak at his Tupelo team’s season banquet on Tuesday night. “We had felt like we had done a lot there. We felt like we had worked extremely hard to accomplish what we had.
“We set out to build a championship program. … Our intentions, our goals were to have success on the court and also to help those young men off the court by making sure they graduate.”
They may have lost their jobs at Ole Miss and gone their separate ways, but the two college buddies remain close.
After spending a season as an assistant at Ouachita Baptist University, a Division II school in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where Pate previously coached from 1995-98, Pate realized it was best for his family if he were to step away from the grind of the college game for a while.
He would become a varsity boys basketball assistant at Tupelo High in 2007 and eventually the Golden Wave’s head coach the following season.
“It was a family decision,” said the 42-year-old Pate, whose parents live in Tupelo. “Our girls were getting older and we felt like it was important for them that we spend more quality time with them.
“Through prayer and just leaning on the Lord, that got us to come to Tupelo. We were familiar with Tupelo. It’s always been an attractive city with a strong school system and an attractive location.”
After the 2005-06 season at Ole Miss, Barnes spent a season at the University of Oklahoma before taking over the Georgia State program.
There in Atlanta, Barnes has treated Pate and his Tupelo team as family. He welcomed the Golden Wave to GSU for a team camp last summer.
As far as Pate – whom Barnes described as “very loyal” – ever rejoining his buddy on the sidelines, that remains to be seen.
“Good Lord willing, I would be honored to work with him,” Pate said, “because he is a person of strong integrity and high morale, and is a Christian man. We have a strong friendship.”
Contact John Wilbert at 678-1572 or firstname.lastname@example.org