At the Adidas ABCD Camp during the summer of 1999, Barrett's passes found camp teammate Eddie Griffin, a 6' 9" forward from Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High, so smartly that Griffin joined Barrett at Seton Hall, a decision that cinched for the Pirates the nation's finest recruiting class. Former Seton Hall playmaker Richie Regan, who starred for the Pirates in the early 1950s, has even agreed to let his number be temporarily brought out of retirement so that Barrett can wear the 12 that he has worn since grade school.
"It was just coincidence that we all wound up in the Big East," Barrett says. "Each of us found what he thought was the perfect situation. At first, I think, we all wanted to get away from each other. Now we feel we can push each other."
As they push one another, they'll also push the Big East. The conference has fallen far from the heights it reached in the 1980s, when Washington and Jackson hooked up regularly in Madison Square Garden, and three Big East teams reached the '85 Final Four. Somewhere along the way the league's founding coaches left or turned complacent, and a misbegotten six-foul rule tarred the conference with a reputation for long and ugly games. But Big East basketball turned ugly in part because teams couldn't make plays, and teams couldn't make plays because they had no playmakers. In the ACC, under the batons of northeasterners like Anderson, Travis Best, Bobby Hurley and Stephon Marbury, spectacular plays got made all the time. The worst of it was that several of those ACC point guards came from New York City, the Big East's geographic center and home of the Garden, where the league holds its annual tournament and where local kids presumably dreamed of playing.
Now Barrett, Brown and Cook will all play for Big East schools and get to compete at the Garden, near such grassroots shrines as Rucker Park, the Hole and the Cage at West Fourth Street. "This will be the millennial hardwood equivalent of the Mantle-Mays-Snider debate," says the 53-year-old Konchalski. "We'll argue over this the way we used to argue over who's the best centerfielder in New York."
If there's a metaphor for the point guard in the city that Whitman called "the world's great thoroughfare," it might be that of the transit cop. If there's a tour to be taken of the history of the New York playmaker, let it be taken the way a transit cop works the beat, flitting from one subway station to the next.
Begin with a trip to have lunch with Jack (Dutch) Garfinkel (no relation to Howard), 81, and Andrew (Fuzzy) Levane, 80. They're former teammates two times over, having won an NIT title together at St. John's in 43 and a championship of the old National Basketball League with the Rochester Royals in '45-46. Today they have a lot of chops-busting disagreements, but through it all, the Oldest (more or less) Living New York Point Guards Tell All.
"Controlled freelancing was our type of ball," Garfinkel says. "I went to the schoolyard, met Fuzzy and somebody else, we knew instinctively what to do. Today, forget about the controlled. They just freelance—because they have skills we didn't have."
"Yeah," says Levane in a rare moment of agreement. "Nobody can guard a guy one-on-one today. But the crossover? In our day that was palming. With all their new terminology and skills, guys today think the game was invented 10 years ago. If they had the nuances we had, they'd be unstoppable. You know, we loved playing against the Big Ten. Their guys would turn their heads, always go for the ball. We'd fake a pass and one of our guys would go in for a layup."
"The Big Ten," Garfinkel says darkly. "I think they had set plays."
The New York style was so well suited to its surroundings that it jumped the lines of race, even though the city was no less segregated then than it is today. "Blacks played like we played," says Levane. He nudges Garfinkel. "You see a better-passing team than the [Harlem] Rens? It was like playing Holman's team."