At Dr. Barker’s house, the (Celtics’) game’s the thing

ALL IN: Former North Caddo Magnet principal Dr. Marby Barker will be tuned into the NBA Finals tonight, again, to cheer for her former student, Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III, as she did during Game 5.

By JERRY BYRD JR., Journal Sports

You won’t find another grandmother in Caddo Parish who enjoys spending time with her grandkids in the summer any more than Dr. Marby Barker, former principal of North Caddo Magnet High School.

However, when the Boston Celtics are playing, forget about it.

“They aren’t invited during those hours,” Barker laughed.

Barker is seriously focused when it comes to watching her former student, Boston’s No. 44, Robert Williams III. 

Barker’s husband is invited to the watch party but like any good Celtics fan, has his superstitions. He has currently accepted a premise that he brings the team bad luck. Instead, tonight he will excuse himself to watch TV – something other than the game – in another room. 

As Barker has been watching Boston battle the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, she will find herself thinking back to Williams’ days as a North Caddo Rebel.

“One of the things I remember is how he advocated for his classmates,” Barker said. “We were trying to tighten up the dress code and had put some things in place. He came into my office and told me that if students were more comfortable they would be more apt to learn what the teachers were teaching.”

While Barker gave Williams an “A” for effort, it didn’t fly.

“I told him that with all of the college coaches who would be coming onto our campus, he should be wearing a coat and tie every day.”

Barker’s suggestion to Williams went as far as his suggestion to the principal.

Just because she didn’t take his advice doesn’t mean she hasn’t become one of Williams’ biggest fans, following his career from 201 Airport Road in Vivian to College Station, and now to the trademark parquet floor of the Boston Garden, where Williams is finishing his first year as a fulltime starter in the NBA in his fourth season as a pro.

Barker has had a front row seat to Williams’ maturation process – even before he graduated from North Caddo. She went to Augusta, Ga., before his senior year to watch him play in the Nike Elite National Tournament.

“I had never seen anything like it,” Barker said. “A huge facility with multiple courts. Parents and friends sit on one side, behind the players. On the other side, there were folding chairs lining the court with college coaches from across the nation. They were all wearing their gear, so you knew what school they were with.”

When Williams played on that level, Barker said it opened the player’s eyes and helped him to come back to Vivian and make some changes on how he went about his business.

“I think when he played against the best of the best in the United States, he knew he was going to have to come home and work to get where he wanted to go,” Barker said. “It wasn’t like high school basketball around here where he was already the best and the tallest. At that level he was just average height.” 

Barker’s support for Williams didn’t stop when he left North Caddo. She often traveled with other North Caddo Magnet High School staff to College Station to watch Williams compete in the Southeastern Conference.

It was there that she noticed Williams starting to grow into his 6-foot-8 frame.

“At North Caddo, he was tall and skinny. They took care of that at Texas A&M,” Barker said. “The combination of the weight program and the meal plan really paid off.”

After one game, Barker remembers the Aggie players coming out to meet friends and family. Each one had a white Styrofoam cup with his name on it. She asked him about the cups and learned the nutrition staff had personalized post-game shakes for the players to help their bodies recover. 

As he got bigger and stronger, Barker saw Williams play with more confidence inside the paint, which helped him win SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

But it’s not his play on the court that’s made his former principal particularly proud.

“I’m proud of the way he has given back to the community and the way he’s remembered the teachers and coaches who helped him get to where he is.”

Williams, with the help of Centenary College and Caddo Parks and Recreation, hosted a basketball camp last summer at Centenary. In order to get kids from Oil City and Vivian to the camp, Williams chartered two buses to transport them to Shreveport and back.

“He does things like that because he remembers what it was like,” Barker said. “Not that long ago, he was that kid.”

But, it’s not just about the camp.

“He will call up Mrs. (Annie) Cherry (current principal at North Caddo) and tell her he wants to buy lunch for the kids and pick up 500 hamburgers from Sonic and eat lunch with the students,” Barker said. 

“He will tell Ricky Evans that he wants to buy plates of crawfish for the people in the town and have them drive through the school parking lot and pick up plates,” Barker said. “You didn’t hear about this because he doesn’t care about these events getting media attention. He does it because he cares about the people in his community.”

Barker, undeterred by Celtic losses in Games 4 and 5, will be watching Game 6 tonight. She will have on her lucky Boston Celtic green shirt hoping that Williams and Company can find a way to get to Game 7.

Either way, there are five grandkids in north Caddo Parish who will be seeing a lot more of their “Nonie” when the NBA Finals are over.