This is the tenth and final part of a summer series of some of the most memorable moments in Barton athletics.
It was March 23, 2001.
Ebi Ere was putting on a display at the Sports Arena in Hutchinson that would etch his name at the top of the Barton Community College record books.
He was nearly unstoppable on his way to a 52-point performance during the consolation bracket of the NJCAA Men’s National Basketball Tournament.
It was the pinnacle of what had been a memorable season for the sophomore guard from Tulsa. One that had taken Ere from a reserve as a freshman to the premier player and one of the hottest junior college recruits in the country.
As a freshman Ere played in 33 games as Barton posted a 32-2 record, losing just one game short of the NJCAA Tournament. Ere averaged just 9.3 points and 4.1 rebounds a game on a team that sent three players to NCAA Division I schools. He played 18 minutes a game.
As his sophomore year started, Reb, as he was called by some members of the team, was not the star of the team. In fact he was down the pecking order a bit for second year coach Ryan Wolf.
The star was returning sophomore Eric Bush. Bush, 5-10, entered that year a pre-season first team All-American and the No. 1 junior college point guard in the country. He was a returning second team All-American and was the MVP of the Jayhawk West as a freshman.
Bush was already the career leader in steals at Barton in just one season and was third in the career assist chart after his record-breaking season. His freshman numbers were 14.1 points, 9.1 assists and 6.0 steals.
Then there was 6-7 Carlton ’Oudi” Baker. Baker was returning after averaging 17.7 points and 8.2 rebounds a contest as a freshman. Baker was rated the No. 4 forward in the junior college ranks.
In addition Barton had a highly touted transfer – 6-7 Travis Robinson from Fresno State. As a freshman at FSU Robinson played in just six games but averaged 14.3 points per game before transferring to Barton for the second semester.
He was a high school All-American out of Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina and had been rated the top player in his class as a sophomore.
Throw in 5-10 jumping jack freshman guard Jason Carter and Howard JC transfer 6-7 Eric Washington at power forward and it was easy to see how the 6-4 Ere might have gotten overlooked as the season started.
Not that he was without talent by any means. He was recruited and signed by the University of Oklahoma out of high school before ending up at Barton. He was the Oklahoma High School Player-of-the-Year as a senior at McLain High. And nearly 10 points a game as a freshman off the bench for a team ranked No. 1 nearly all season is pretty good stuff.
The Cougars were ranked No. 3 in the country to start the season and expectations were high once again on The Hill.
The Jayhawk ShootOut helped set the tone for Ere and the rest of the season. He poured in 35 points on the opening day in a 111-88 win. Two other things happened during the victory as well. Baker was ejected from the game after slapping the backboard on a dunk then arguing with the referee.
And Robinson, leading Barton with a 21.2 average at the time, scored just one point and didn’t play the second half. The ShootOut would be the final time Robinson wore a Barton uniform.
As January started, Baker was taking over. He scored more than 30 points twice early in the conference season. He had taken over as the team’s leading scorer after Robinson’s departure.
Then came Jan. 20 at El Dorado. Baker and Butler’s James Peters mixed it and Baker was ejected late in the first half. For Baker it was his second ejection of the year which meant he was done for the season according to conference rules.
Ere stepped it up again in his absence scoring 33 points to lead the Cougars to a win at the Power Plant
By the time February rolled around Ebi Ere was a star. There was a 34-point game against Hutchinson, 31 at Seward County, 30 points at Cloud County and 35 against Colby.
The Cougars finished fourth in the Jayhawk West after being picked No. 3 in the nation. But the team had begun to jell with Ere playing the starring role. He finished the regular season with a 23.6 scoring average to lead the West. During the West season only that number was higher than 26 per game.
The post-season would bring even greater accomplishments. It started with a sluggish 65-59 home win against KCK where Ere scored 26.
In the Cougars quarterfinal game against Coffeyville, Ere drilled a running 30-footer at the buzzer to give Barton a 76-73 win over the Jayhawk East champions. That win gave him 32 points for the game and capped a 17-point second half comeback.
Coffeyville had just tied the game with 3.7 seconds left. Ere took the inbounds pass, dribble past half court, pulled up and fired as two Coffeyville defenders ran by. His body as about three-quarters toward the basket and the ball hit nothing but net. The buzzer sounded nearly the moment the ball left his hands.
He scored 26 in a semifinal win over Seward then scored 21 as Barton came from double digits behind again in the second half to beat Independence and win the Region VI Championship.
That secured Barton’s second trip to the NJCAA National Tournament in three years and third in school history.
With Division I coaches roaming all over the Sports Arena, Ere didn’t disappointment.
The Cougars drew a tough first round match up against eventual national champion Wabash Valley College (Ind.). The Cougars lost the game 90-77 as Ere scored 17 points.
Barton bounced back to open the consolation side with a win over Western Nebraska. Barton edged Western Nebraska by a 67-64 count as Ere led the Cougars with 20 points. He hit a pair free throws with 14.5 seconds left to give Barton a 5-point lead and secure the win.
Then came that Friday afternoon at the Sports Arena – March 23, 2001. In fact it was exactly noon when the game tipped. To make things better, his mother, Beoma Ere, was in the stands. It was just the second time she had seen him play that season.
The first half was impressive enough as Ere poured in 18 points as Barton built a 48-30 lead. Ere hit 5-of-11 field goals but missed all four 3-pointers he attempted. Ere was able to add an 8-for-11 effort at the free throw line to rack up the 18 points.
The second half was something special.
He poured in 21 points the first eight minutes of the second half as Barton built an 81-46 lead. That gave him 39 as he went to the bench with blood on his shirt.
After sitting for four minutes, Ere was back in the game. He had eight minutes to chase a record. By this time the staff as well Ere knew he was just eight points short of the school record of 47 points held by Tony Hobson since 1979.
When he knocked down his fourth trey of the game with 3:43 to play he had tied Hobson with 47 points. The next trip down the floor he was fouled and broke the record with a pair of free throws.
Ere would add a fifth trey to run his total to 52 points – ironically with 52 seconds left in the game.
By the time the final 20 minutes ended, Ere had impressed everyone in the arena. He shot 10-of-14 from the field in the second half, nailed 5-of-6 treys and was a perfect 9-for-9 at the free throw line for 34 points.
The final line read something like this – Ebi Ere 15-25 (5-10) 17-20 – 52. It was the third highest scoring output in NJCAA Tournament history and the highest in 41 years.
But that wasn’t the only category he entered the record books that day.
The 15 made field goals was the third most in school history – two behind Mark Hutton’s mark of 17 set in 1991. The 17 free throws moved him into second all-time behind Hobson, who made 19-of-22 during his 47-point game. The 20 attempts was the third most in a game.
The 17 made free throws made him the single-season leader in that category as well, surpassing DeMarcus Minor’s 191 two years prior. Ere would end with 209 made charity tosses in 2001.
But the standout had one more big-time performance in him.
In the seventh place game on the next day, Ere would finish his career with 40 points in an 82-80 win over Northwest Mississippi.
Those 40 points moved him to the top of the single-season scoring charts at Barton with 942 points. That surpassed the 921 points Lamont Roland had scored just two years earlier.
In some more irony, Ere scored 53 and 40 in his final two high school games.
His 24.8 points a game that sophomore season is the second-highest average for a season behind only Brandun Hughes who scored 28.2 per game in 1996.
For the four games at the NJCAA Tournament, Ere averaged 32.3 points a game and was selected to the All-Tournament team. He also was awarded the Charles Sesher Sportsmanship Award for the NJCAA Tournament.
He wrapped up his career at Barton with 1148 total points fifth best at that time for the Cougars. He left Barton with 254 made free throws – second best at the time behind Jim Graham’s 259 in the late ‘80’s. Algie Key has since shattered that mark with 371.
For his career, Ere made 254-of-305 free throws for an .838 clip – still a record today at Barton. It broke Alan Clark’s record of .818 set back in the late ‘70’s.
The recruiting war heated up for Ere. Oklahoma had been pursuing him all season and had really never stopped since his high school days. Texas Tech was also heavily recruiting him.
But after the tournament more big boys came calling. Among those were Tom Izzo and Michigan State, fresh off a Final Four and Bill Self and Illinois. Illinois was a No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region the previous year losing in the Elite Eight to Arizona.
In the end the home state Sooners won out. Ere starred for OU the following year averaging 14.6 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per contest. He led the Sooners to a 27-4 regular season record and into the Final Four as the No. 2 seed in the West. He was the 2002 Big XII Newcomer-of-the-Year.
As a senior he fought a wrist injury part of the season but was still second on the Sooners with a 12.9 scoring average. Oklahoma took a No. 1 seed in the East into the NCAA tournament, losing in the Elite Eight to Syracuse. He scored a career-high 33 early that season. He scored 25 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in a win over Butler to advance to the Elite Eight playing with a broken bone in that left wrist.
Ere went undrafted and spent some time in the NBA Summer League before heading overseas. Ere was the runner-up for MVP of the NBL in Australia in 2008. His team, the Sydney Kings, won the NBL title in 2007. After leaving Australia he played in Italy and Spain. The last three years he has been in Puerto Rico and currently plays for the Vaqueros de Bayamon.
While he has flourished since his days at Barton those around Great Bend and Hutchinson will never forget the 52-point effort that Friday afternoon at the Sports Arena.