College in mourning over death of basketball coach
Students and faculty at USU Eastern spent Wednesday morning grieving together as the news of men's basketball coach Brad Barton's death shocked many on campus and in the community.
Barton, 31, was found dead in his apartment Tuesday afternoon of undetermined causes.
Price police Sgt. Bill Barnes said there was no sign of foul play at the apartment near the college. Barton's body was discovered by an assistant coach, who had come to check when he became concerned about not hearing from Barton since Monday.
Barnes said the state medical examiner's office is involved in trying to determine the cause of death.
The basketball team was notified of Barton's passing by USU Eastern athletic director Dave Paur. Crisis counseling was being provided to athletes as they dealt with the news of their coach's passing.
On Wednesday morning, students and faculty gathered quietly in the ballroom at the Jennifer Leavitt Student Center to remember and honor Barton. Students embraced each other during the memorial as some had tears flowing down their cheeks and others laid their heads on the shoulders of friends.
"This gathering is a way for students and faculty to discuss our grief and help give support to one another during this difficult time," said USU Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson.
Peterson said the campus was "shaken" after news spread across campus Tuesday of Barton's death.
"After the initial shock of hearing the news, our thoughts turned to the students and faculty who were close to Brad," he said. "It's wonderful to see the unity of the campus during these times as it shows we're there for each other."
Many in the room also waited in lines to write personal and farewell messages to Barton on gold blankets with the USU Eastern name imprinted on them. The personalized blankets will be presented to Barton's parents as a traditional way to say goodbye to a beloved member of the college family, according to Peterson.
Barton was named permanent head coach of the men's team in June, having served as interim coach during the previous season. During his interim season, he helped guide the team to a record of 23-7, with three of those losses coming at the hands of the eventual national champion, College of Southern Idaho.
He had been head assistant coach at USU Eastern under Chris Craig, who left before the 2010-11 season.
Barton had also served as an assistant coach under Mike Ostlund at Snow College from 2006-07. He played high school basketball at Davis High and went to BYU-Hawaii for two years before he transferred to Weber State University. He led the Big Sky Conference in assist-to-turnover ratio both seasons at Weber State and he averaged 3.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in 60 career games with the Wildcats, according to stats from the Weberstatesports.com website.
"He was ecstatic about being named head coach," said Craig in a telephone interview Wednesday morning. "The job meant a lot to him and he knew what it meant to the community."
Craig, who has coached with and known Barton for six years, called Barton a "special, special unique person" who was always there for his players whenever they needed him. Many times, Craig said, Barton would be on campus and at the gym until the late hours of the night working one-on-one with the players.
"He purely coached to help the kids," Craig said. "He was a tough coach and made the players really work hard for everything. But whether he was an assistant or a head coach, he gave his life for those kids and really cared for all of them."
Outside of the court, Barton loved to spend time with the players and do activities in the outdoors. When the team traveled on long bus trips to places like Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Rangely, Colo., Craig said Barton would pass the time joking around with the players and reading books of all kinds.
"The guy was a genius," Craig explained. "He could have done whatever he wanted to in life."
But a love for basketball kept him around the game both as a player and a coach. The former captain of the Weber State basketball team was a scrappy player who worked hard to make it despite not being the most athletically gifted player.
"Brad was kind of a one-in-a-million person and player," said former Weber State University basketball coach Joe Cravens to the Standard Examiner newspaper on Tuesday night. "He played for me on a team that went undefeated in (Big Sky Conference play in 2002-03). He was kind of the heart and soul of that team. He wasn't the star but he was the guy that kind of made that team go. He was the most competitive, compassionate player I think I've ever coached."
As a player, a coach and a person, people who knew Barton can always remember him for the way he carried himself and the way he pursued goals in life, especially with his love for the game of basketball.
"He wanted to play the game as long as he could and then he was going to coach for as long as possible," Craig said. "You never get to see many guys like him. It can't get much better than that as a player or coach."
A memorial service for Barton has been tentatively scheduled to take place on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the Dee Events Center on the Weber State University campus.