Alhassan Barrie speaks five languages: English, Dutch, French, German, and Creole English. He has lived in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gambia, the United States, and Belgium.As Neal Young, the men’s basketball coach, said, Barrie is “the definition of a global citizen” at a college that counts global citizenship as a core value.
Barrie was born in Sierra Leone, but has lived most of his life in Antwerp, Belgium, paying little attention to basketball until he was introduced to a basketball program at his high school.
“I really didn’t want to do it,” he said, “but my mom basically forced me to play.”
Barrie then paused and said with an eye-roll, “Because I was tall.”
Thanks to the Wolf Camp Basketball Academy in Antwerp, which offered an introduction to basketball class, Barrie learned to enjoy playing the sport and later decided to continue with the academy’s summer program.
After having only played the game for five years, Barrie brought his skills to the United States to play at the collegiate level. He played his freshman year at Northern Oklahoma College.
Young, the Goshen College men’s basketball coach, recalled sending his assistant coach, John Troph, to a recruiting showcase in Chicago, in search of a few more players. “At the time we were really looking for someone who could help us with defending and rebounding,” Young said.
While in Chicago, Troph called Young and told him, “I found the perfect guy. He plays super hard, can guard anybody, rebounds everything… I love this kid.”
“It was a relatively short recruitment,” Young said. After making a few calls and a visit to campus, Barrie committed to Goshen College.
“A. B. is a really good fit for Goshen College,” Young said. “He’s lived in four countries. He speaks five languages. He’s the definition of a global citizen. And I think he recognized that right away, and that’s why he decided so quick.”
Throughout Barrie’s transition to the United States, not only has he adapted to cultural differences, but also to the North American basketball style of play.
“Europeans are more technical and they play in a more finesse way,” Barrie said. “Americans are bigger, stronger, more athletic and more versatile. It’s more physical over here.”
Young commented, “He is naturally more suited for the United States style, because he’s a very physical player, who is strong and likes contact.”
Barrie is 6 feet 5 inches tall and plays forward on the team.
“It’s a whole adjustment,” Barrie said. “Even the rules are different.”
In Europe, the shot clock lasts 24 seconds instead of 35 seconds like the clock in the NAIA. The regulation brand used for the balls also differs. Games are played in four 10-minute quarters in the NAIA as opposed to two 20-minute halves in Europe.
The basketball season has barely begun and already Barrie feels that the team has been able to create memorable bonding experiences. At the team talent show earlier in the year, Barrie was pleased to see all the hidden talents that his teammates have.
“We have some quiet guys on the team,” Barrie said, “and seeing them being open, dancing, doing crazy stuff and singing surprised us all. Our guys are just talented in so many different ways, and you wouldn’t even know.”
Even though Barrie is not a starter for the Maple Leafs, he is the only underclassman on the team to consistently play over 15 minutes per game. He makes his presence known on the court with his stature and keen ability to rebound the ball. Barrie currently leads the team in rebounds with 22 so far this season.
“It’s so easy to forget that he’s only a sophomore,” said Young. “He carries himself in a way that is much more mature than a typical college sophomore.”
Barrie hopes to see himself and the team improve on their mental aspect of the game. He worries that when they aren’t 100 percent present mentally, “we tend to slack and make little mistakes that can cost us the game.”
“I really believe our team can get to the tournament in March,” Barrie said. “Everyone is so talented. It’s crazy how much we compete during practices.”
Barrie summarized his hopes for the season: “Make our coach happy, because if he’s happy, we’ll be happy too.”