ELMWOOD PARK — Jameer Barker could have been excused for blowing off school on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, only he wasn’t about to excuse himself.
One night earlier, the sophomore wide receiver was at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison celebrating something extraordinary. The St. Catherine’s High School football team had just completed a 14-0 state championship — the first in the program’s history — and he might have chosen the following day to relax and take it all in.
But St. Catherine’s boys basketball coach Nick Bennett was holding a practice for a scrimmage that night. And he made it clear to his players that he expected them to be there.
“Kids didn’t arrive back in Racine until after midnight,” Bennett said. “I told any fall sport kids they must attend school the whole day and be at practice if they were to participate in the scrimmage.
“We had many kids that played in the title game for football. Only one kid showed up to school the next day at 7:15 a.m. and practiced to ensure he could scrimmage — Jameer Barker. I truly did not expect any kids to be there. It was an incredible sign of his desire to be there.”
What has that desire meant to Barker? He has started the last two seasons on a team that had gone 49-1 in that time. And he will certainly be a key player for the Angels as they work toward a WIAA Division 3 state championship that eluded them last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 6-foot-2 guard/forward averages 13.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.0 steals in taking pressure off the All-State backcourt of Tyrese Hunter and Kamari McGee. He’s gone 45 for 132 (34.1%) from 3-point range. And he has helped fill a cavernous void left by the graduation of Elijah Lambert, who was regarded by Bennett as the state’s best defender last season.
This is the desire that Bennett saw in Barker the morning of Nov. 16, 2018.
“That just shows there’s a dedication level to Jameer,” Bennett said. “It just shows you he’s serious about basketball and he’s serious about becoming a good athlete and he’d always been a kid who’s been willing to put in the time to do the things necessary to become a really good basketball player.”
When asked about the day Bennett remembers so well, Barker said, “I wanted to be there for my team. Basketball season was coming up and I wanted to get ready for the season. I wanted to bond with my teammates because I knew we had a big season coming up.”
Barker came off the bench that season for a team that went 21-4 and advanced to the sectional semifinal before losing to Greendale Martin Luther 78-68 March 7, 2019.
The Angels have lost just once since then — Martin Luther won 65-59 on Jan. 30 with the injured Hunter out of the lineup — and Barker has had a great deal to do with that.
As a junior starter, Barker averaged 14.3 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 steals. Barker, who writes with his right hand bit shoots with his left, also was a deadly outside shooter, making 51 of 125 3-point attempts for 40.8%.
“He’s a darn good ballplayer,” Prairie coach Jason Atanasoff said. “I believe he has multiple Division 2 offers. He’s a smooth lefty from the ‘3,’ but at the same time, he has the size and strength to score inside.
“He’s really become a good defender that last two years and he’s kind of a perfect piece for them. I had the unique opportunity to coach him this past July for some travel ball and he’s a really neat kid. He’s a hard worker, a good teammate and he leads by example.”
While Barker has excelled on the court, he has also done so in the classroom with a 3.7 grade-point average. And he has excelled despite losing his father from a seizure when Barker was sophomore.
While he declined to discuss his father for this story, he was effusive about the impact his mother, Leslie Davis, has had on him.
“She taught me everything from being responsible to being determined,” Barker said. “Like, if you want something, you have to get it.”
After the season, Barker will decide whether he’s going to play football or basketball in college. If he decides on basketball, his options include Carroll, Michigan Tech, Chadron State and UW-Whitewater. Possibilities for football include Concordia in St. Paul, Minn., Carthage and Carroll.
Barker said he’s keeping his options open. But McGee and Hunter sure like his potential in basketball because of his work ethic.
And that brings us back to Nov. 16, 2019, which McGee remembers.
“I honestly remember that,” McGee said. “I think he was the first one in the gym, too. That speaks a lot about how he wanted to be with us. After they won state, he could have been out celebrating, but he was dedicated to come play with us. So that speaks a lot about Jameer.
And now Barker is intent to win a second state championship in a different sport at St. Catherine’s. Hunter and McGee, who will both be playing at the Division I level next season, will have a lot to say about whether the Angels win their first state championship in basketball since 2010.
And so will Barker.
“He brings a lot of energy and lifts people who are down,” Hunter said. “Jameer’s a big part of the team. He does a lot of the dirty things that people don’t want to do. He’s stepping up big time.”