Darrin Person Jr. had days where he looked “really, really good,” at Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball practice, according to CSUB head coach Rod Barnes. Then he had days where he looked rusty — likely a result of sitting out his entire freshman season with a hip injury that eventually required surgery.
Person, a redshirt freshman forward, didn’t quite realize the intensity he needed to practice with, Barnes said. And with one non-conference game left (against No. 7 Gonzaga), Barnes was all but out of time to talk to individual players about their work ethics.
This isn’t high school anymore, Barnes told Person and the other first-year players on the team prior to the team’s few days off around Christmas — a time when most of the players typically go home.
Person, a Fresno native that went to Reedley-Immanuel, took little time off during the break. When practice picked back up and the players returned to Bakersfield, Barnes and CSUB’s players thought Person appeared more focused and worked harder. Person has earned double-digit minutes in each of three games since, recording 10 points and four rebounds in one, helping the Roadrunners open up Western Athletic Conference play 2-0.
Next up, CSUB will head to Texas-Rio Grande Valley for a 5 p.m. game. They'll then visit New Mexico State for a 3 p.m. matchup on Saturday.
“You really want to know what happened to him?” Barnes said. “Sitting on that bench and not playing is the biggest motivator for a guy that really wants to compete. And I think he got home at Christmas and realized that he was fading down our depth chart and made a decision to come back and really do that.”
CSUB athletics declined to make Person available to interview for this story.
Person was a “big time” recruit for Barnes. The head coach thought the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder could play right away. Then Person got hurt and redshirted his first year at CSUB. The injury lingered and Barnes admittedly doesn’t like pushing players too hard in those situations.
In three of the first four games of the 2018-19 season, Person saw the court with 16 minutes against TCU, 11 minutes against Antelope Valley and 24 minutes against San Jose State. Person did not play in the team’s third game against Central Michigan.
Over the next eight games, Person played just five times, averaging 4.6 minutes, 0.4 rebounds and 0.4 points. Barnes was not happy with the inconsistency at practice and the effort. And playing for Barnes, if you don’t practice well, you don’t play.
“In high school, Darrin was the biggest guy a lot of times on the court,” Barnes said. “He’s the smallest post player on the court right now. So his attitude and his approach to what we’re doing (are important). He can’t take plays off. If he takes plays off out there, now you may get dunked on, you may get pounded on, you may get scored on. You might not even get a rebound.”
Barnes had his talk with Person before the break. The players returned and Person came back with a different “bounce about himself” and “focus on what we’re trying to do,” Barnes said. Barnes wasn’t surprised by it, but he was excited about it.
The head coach rewarded Person with 12 minutes at Gonzaga. He picked up three rebounds and three points. In CSUB’s conference-opening win over Seattle, Person scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds and registered a block (he could have been credited with an additional rebound, two blocks and a steal).
“I just knew when I came in that I wanted to give us a spark today,” Person said after the Seattle game. “... Just something inside myself, I wanted to play as hard as I can.”
In 17 minutes against Utah Valley, Person totaled five rebounds (three offensive boards) and two points. Barnes trusted Person enough to keep him on the court in the final seconds of a tie game. Person played a role boxing out to help forward Taze Moore get a rebound and score the buzzer-beating game-winning shot.
“His focus has changed a lot,” said CSUB guard Jarkel Joiner, Person’s roommate. “I think he’s just knowing what he can do. He’s getting more confidence. I guess on the break he went home, put some work in, stuff like that. He felt like he can help this team and we know he can help this team in a lot of ways.”