Q&A: Getting to Know... The ACC's Fred Barakat
March 9, 2007
How did you get started with the ACC?
I played for Assumption College in Worcester, from 1957-1961. In high school I played football, basketball and baseball. I was an all-county, all-state player in two sports, mostly my strength was in basketball and baseball. I received a lot of basketball and baseball scholarships. Every summer I would go up to (Bob) Cousy's camp in New Hampshire. At night after the kids' games were over, the counselors would play. In those years, the Boston Celtics would come to Cousy's camp and do their Rookie Camp with some of their veterans. Red Auerbach would be up there and Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, John Havlicek, Casey Jones, Sam Jones and Heinsohn. I would play with them at night, under the lights.
I started there as a freshman, I played baseball and basketball. I was a four-year starter and captained both teams in my junior and senior years. I made All-New England and All-American and I got drafted by the New York Knicks. I also got drafted by the Giants in baseball.
The greatest thing that happened to me was going to Assumption. It was a small school, about 600 students, all men, run by the Assumption priests. Me, as a kid out of Union City, NJ, it was the structure that I needed. It was very, very closely monitored by the priests and the professors. I had a tremendous roommate by the name of Jim Bill, who was there on a full academic scholarship and he taught me how to study. He introduced me to academics. He took me to the library every night and we stayed there until midnight. He taught me how to pick out the important information. It was a great experience. He went on to Princeton, got his Master's and his Doctorate. Now, he is one of the leading experts on Iranian Politics. He is head of the International Studies program at William & Mary. He went there from the University of Texas where he was the head as well. He is a terrific guy and probably the main reason for my getting introduced to the academic world. It was a tremendous opportunity that I took advantage of.
I tried out with the Knicks and I got cut. Unfortunately, when I tried out, there weren't many NBA teams in the league. So it really wasn't a great opportunity for me. So I started teaching school in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. I coached some basketball and baseball and some football there. I started going to school at night to get my Master's in Psychology and Guidance. I started playing in the Eastern League, which is now known as the Development League. It was the minor league for the NBA. I played on weekends there, that's all you had to do was show up on weekends and play. I did that for a few years. I wanted to get out of the classroom, so I started to apply for fellowships. I received a full fellowship to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. My wife and I had just got married and we decided to take it. So we had shipped our furniture out to Madison. My coach Andy Laska called in July of 1966 and said, "I would like you to come back here. We have an opportunity for you and would like you to come back." We had a decision to make. So we re-routed our stuff from Madison to Worcester, MA, to Assumption, my alma matter.
In 1966, I was the head tennis coach, head soccer coach, assistant basketball coach, Phys. Ed. instructor, sports information director, equipment manager, trainer and I taught in the Master's program to the nuns in the summer. This will blow your mind, what my salary was: $6,500, and that's with a child and a wife. So people say you have to start small and stay with it, I did! So I stayed there for five years, then I got the assistant's job at the University of Connecticut. We won the Yankee Conference Championship that year. Then I got offered the head coaching job at Fairfield University in 1970. I stayed at Fairfield from 1970 to 1981.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Who was your most influential role model?
How has men's basketball in general changed since you started?
What's your most memorable moment in ACC sports?
But, the one great thrill that I had was when I managed the tournament in the Georgia Dome in 2001. We set a record, of 182,525 fans. I'll never forget that number. For the championship game we had 40,000 people and that is without a public sale. The event had the air of a Final Four. I know Coach K said afterwards that that event was like any Final Four that he had ever been in, perhaps better. It was a tremendous compliment. And a tremendous semi-final game in that tournament between Duke and Maryland. They also met in the Final Four and Duke won the NCAA Championship that year.
It was a real good moment for me because of the enormous magnitude of the event. In that semi-final game, I'll never forget the Duke player, Nate James, coming out of nowhere. The ball is coming off the rim from a missed shot and he came running in and tips the ball in for an 84-82 win over Maryland in the semi-finals. To me, that was the championship game. It was unbelievable. That probably was one of the great basketball moments.
Because the other aspects I talked about go back to having the opportunity to be part of the Atlantic Coast Conference; Having the opportunity to create a legacy; Having the opportunity to be with this great conference; Having the opportunity to make the acquaintances and the relationships with the fabulous Athletic Directors and Faculty Reps and Commissioners; I've worked for three of the four commissioners in the league. Overall, it would be just me being a part of this great conference.
What is your favorite part about the ACC's Men's Basketball Tournament?
Then the other part is when it's over. The feeling that it was hopefully a wonderful experience for our student athletes and all the fans that were in attendance. They leave here, no matter whether their team won or loss, saying, "What a terrific event. Wow, that was fun." I think there are two parts, the front part and the end part.
The middle part is always fun as well.
What will you miss the most when you retire?
Upon your retirement, how do you hope to be remembered throughout the conference?
I love the ACC - it has been my passion for 26 years and I'll always be indebted to Commissioner Bob James who hired me and gave me the latitude to start and develop my career. My definition of success is based on three things: 1) to get the most out of your potential; 2) to gain the respect of your peers; 3) to make a contribution to the society in which you live.
Hopefully, under this definition, I've been successful.