‘Barr’ing all unforeseen circumstances

Barr sets for a three-point look against North Georgia on January 6th. Photo courtesy of @flaglermbb on Instagram.

By: Nicholas Leo

Former Peach Belt Conference defensive player of the year Jalen Barr is currently averaging 1.4 steals and 0.9 blocks per game. Numbers that are good enough to rank him amongst the top 15 in the Peach Belt Conference in their respective categories; with only a 0.1 drop in steals and 0.4 in blocks per game from his award-winning season.

Barr is playing the least minutes of his collegiate career, and putting up a near identical statline. Only two other players rank in the top 15 in blocks and steals per game in the PBC.

This isn’t the decline in numbers it may read as, just last year he was unable to bend his leg more than a few centimeters. Barr had sustained a serious leg injury that sidelined him for the entirety of the 2022-23 season and most of this offseason.

“The whole thing,” Barr said describing the 5 tendons in his knee that were torn, including an ACL for the second time.

Riding the pine, entering the transfer portal, and returning to Clark Family Court as if he’d never left. Barr was able to make the most inopportune circumstances work in his favor, in the place he calls home.

“Flagler’s family, man. Might as well finish it out with one of my last years to go win it all,” Barr said. “For them.”

The Injury

In a 2022 preseason practice an open fast break dunk attempt went awry. Barr came down from the rim on his right foot with his knee bending inward as he buckled to the floor.

“I knew it was bad, but I didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. About 15 minutes after, I put some ice on it, I was back to walking,” Barr said.

Hoping for it to just be a sprain, less than a week later Barr saw Dr. Nathaniel Osborn at AdventHealth in Orlando and had an MRI done the same day. Far worse than expected, the doctors would tell Barr that he not only tore his ALC again, but also tore his MCL, PCL, LCL, and meniscus.

“My initial reaction was like damn,” Barr said with a surprised look as he shook his head. “But I’ve tore my ACL before, I’ve been through the process, so I already knew what it was going to take from me.”

Barr’s first ACL injury took place on the gridiron just two games into his senior year of high school football. In order to recover in time for basketball season, he opted away from reconstructive surgery and instead followed a stem cell treatment. Barr would return for two playoff games for the Olympic Trojans just six months after his injury, averaging 10 points and six rebounds.

“It felt so good that I didn’t have to go back and get an MRI or have them look into my knee or anything like that so I don’t know if the first time really even did the trick,” Barr said. “But they did a damn good job alright.”

A study by the International Journal of Sports Therapy found that a secondary ACL injury prevention program following athletes first tear is beneficial in preventing a second tear. In a test of 40 cutting and pivoting male athletes, only one sustained a second ACL injury within two years whilst following the program.

Barr may have been able to avoid his second ACL tear with such precautionary measures, hindsight is 20/20. Implementing them now could help him stray from a third as he completes his final two years of collegiate eligibility.

The Recovery

Barr’s high school injury was substantially different from his most recent, with the additional tears alongside his ACL the recovery process was all but similar.

“After the first time I was able to fully bend my knee within seven to eight days. This time it took months to get the full extension. I was stuck with it right here [points to the slight bend it was stuck at] no more, no less,” Barr said.

Teammates and roommates Spencer Bain, Jack Webster and Malik Bryant were key in helping Barr through the process. From everyday tasks of grabbing something from the kitchen or giving Barr a ride, to keeping him under control and in the loop with the team.

Going from playing 27 minutes a game to sitting behind the bench all season is no easy adjustment, Barr was able to keep active in the team by viewing it as a change-of-role. Attending nearly every home game and traveling with the team once able to walk, his eye from the sideline soon became the voice of a coaches.

“You get to see that [different perspective] and get to share with the team. I do think they listened to me because they started doing the things that I was telling them to,” Barr said.

Off the court Coach Selland and Kip were always in communication texting Barr. Close family was always there, specifically his mother and sister on social media making their voices heard that he’d be back and better than ever.

Determined to walk with the class of 2023, Barr now had the extrinsic motivation to keep his nose to the grindstone, taking on 17 credits for his final semester. Without basketball, Barr kept his mind busy with one of three things: schoolwork, friends/family, or video games. 

The Transfer Portal

Set to graduate in the quickly approaching Spring with Flagler College lacking a master’s program, Barr was forced to make a decision. On February 19th he entered the Transfer portal to test the waters.

Seven days later he’d be celebrated as the lone representative during Flagler’s senior night, with the men’s basketball team and athletics Instagram posting the caption “a tough goodbye”. A month later a report from Hoop Scoop Media stated that 30 colleges had spoken with the former defensive player of the year.

The Flagler men’s basketball coaching staff poses alongside Jalen Barr and his mother, Tamara, during last season’s senior night against Lander University. (Photo by Lexi Ray, @lexiray_photos).

Two schools nearly roped the possible transfer away from St. Augustine, but one would have required student loans to be taken out and the other was an even smaller school than tight-knit Flagler College. A constant factor in the schools Barr spoke with was their lack of belief that he would be able to return to play by the start of this season.

“The coaches were wonderful, the place, the interviews were wonderful… Just not the right fit,” Barr said. “They doubted, and the two people I can say that for sure didn’t doubt me was Kip and Selland.”

Selland expressed to Barr that they want what’s best for him. If that meant he found a better position elsewhere, Selland would encourage him to pursue that. Selland would also emphasize that if Barr did not find anything, he always had a home at Flagler.

Barr has known his teammate and roommate Bryant since the second grade, the longtime friend and teammate was a large part of the decision to return; along with another player from his high school area, Destin Clark, committing to Flagler. 

“I know once us three get on the court together it’s gonna be a problem regardless, because it was back then,” Barr said.

Currently, Barr is leading the team in blocks and steals; Clark and Bryant are leading the team in scoring; and Clark and Barr are leading the team on the glass. For the Saint’s opponents, the trio has undoubtedly been a problem.

Barr (#23) and Clark (#15) pose for a picture before their first home win of the season versus Edward Waters. (Photo by Becca Rios, @becca.rios.photography)

Barr opted to pursue two minors, business administration as well as health and wellness, as he remains at the college that holds his face atop a billboard on Ponce De Leon Boulevard.

The Comeback

During the offseason, team coaches chauffered Barr to and from his doctors’ appointments as he struggled to make progress gaining strength back in his leg.

“That’s when we brought in Jenna [Tomlinson], the new athletic trainer, she helped out major. She helped me with all these stretches and exercises to build that muscle back,” Barr said.

The worst part of the process was healing the torn tendons, but a close second was starting from ground zero in building muscle. Mentally realizing one is only at the turn before an equally tough back nine consisting of mobility, strength, and fast twitch muscles awaits.

“It’s really starting over. Basically learning how to walk again,” Barr said.

Over the months Barr would improve his right leg’s strength until it was greater than his left. This, done accidentally, allowed Barr to play his physical style even when competing carefully.

Just before Flagler’s only preseason exhibition Barr was cleared to play, and ramped up his training to about 85% percent before pushing it full speed come tip-off. In his first college game in 597 days he’d finish with nine points and two steals, logging 17 minutes off the bench.

Prior to the Saints opening matchup, Barr felt mentally as though he was back to pre-injury form, but was aware that not until midseason when he had enough minutes logged and reps against competition would he truly be.

As conference play is in full swing approaching the PBC tournament, Barr is playing at peak physical performance. Averaging over 28 minutes per game the last five games and playing above-the-rim basketball, he’ll look to help Flagler even the season series against USC Aiken at home on Wednesday.

Jalen Barr soars through the air for a back-scratcher dunk against Augusta on January 17th. Photo courtesy of @flaglermbb.

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