Of the 209 boys and girls varsity basketball teams in the region, only one made it through the regular season undefeated. It wasn’t a storied city school, a prestigious private one, or even a traditional local powerhouse.
That distinction belongs to the boys of Barker, who entered the sectional tournament last week at a perfect 18-0.
It’s an unlikely feat for the Raiders, who finished 12-9 last year and just 6-8 in the Niagara-Orleans League. This season’s league championship was the school’s first in boys basketball since 1978, when it was a member of Section V’s Genesee region. Barker has never had an undefeated season before – even its 1945 team that won a league title lost one game against Wilson, head coach Dave Carson said.
But while Barker basketball may not be synonymous with winning, its players certainly are. Senior forward Jake Haight averages a double-double, leading the team with 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. In the spring, he’s a track-and-field star, using his 6-foot-4 frame to excel in the high jump and long jump, events in which he’s the reigning Division 2 sectional champion. On the gridiron, he spent time at running back and quarterback and was added to the All-Western New York first team as the punter.
Senior point guard Mitchell Luckman scores 14.4 points per game and adds 7.1 assists, putting him near the top of the section in that category. He also took eighth place at the Niagara-Orleans League golf tournament, which was won by Barker’s undefeated squad.
Shooting guard Christopher Sweeney, a junior who has 39 three-pointers this year and scores 10.2 points per game, was on the Barker cross-country team that won the section and took second at the state meet in Class D. But finishing the races ahead of him was senior Bryce Moeller, the basketball team’s center, who averages 9.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 blocks per game, and also placed second in the pentathlon at last season’s sectional track meet.
The list goes on.
“This is a special group,” Carson said. “I think people have known that for quite some time, even when these kids were in sixth, seventh grade. I remember our former basketball coach, Dan Luckman, telling me this group’s going to be really good when they get up to their senior year. He definitely was right on with that one.”
The Raiders have six seniors on the roster and start four, with forward Hayden Gooding rounding out the lineup. The team entered tournaments together over the summer and joined a league at Niagara County Community College.
“Commitment,” Haight said when asked what’s different about this year’s team. “I think we played around 30 games as a team (during the summer), we got guys going to camps, whenever we can play, we played. That really helped out. We all push each other. We all want to see each other do the best we can do.”
The Raiders are ranked eighth in the latest Buffalo News Small School Poll and were seeded first in Class C-1. The spotlight will be on Haight if Barker can make a deep run through the playoffs.
In January, Haight went over 1,200 points for his career and broke the school’s all-time scoring record, which was held for 17 years by current NCCC coach Bill Beilein, nephew of University of Michigan coach John Beilein.
“I wouldn’t want to (lose) the record to anyone else,” Beilein tweeted to Haight earlier this year.
“To (lose) it to @Jhaight1 is fine by me!” Beilein replied to another coach on the night Haight broke the mark. “He plays the right way!”
Haight has not yet chosen a college and only wants to worry about winning a championship right now. He impresses coaches with his athleticism and ability at both ends of the court – and how quickly he gets from one end to the other. Off the court, “he’s got charisma,” Carson said. “Charisma and charm.”
“It’s funny,” the coach continued, “my two seniors who are really statistically leading the way for us, Jake Haight is a real loose, real fun kid, likes to goof around. And then you have Mitch Luckman, the point guard, he packs his lunch to go to work. He’s a serious kid, all business. It’s definitely great to see two different personalities, yet they play so well with each other on the floor.”
That’s the yin and yang of Barker, the stars whose balance keeps the rest of the system in order. Haight acknowledged how special it is to do something for his hometown that hasn’t been accomplished in his lifetime.
Sweeney is even more acutely aware of the team’s significance – his father was on the 1978 championship team.
They know what the history books say. Now they want to write their own chapter.
“We want to win a section championship,” Haight said. “A lot of people don’t think we can do it, but we definitely believe we can. We know our team, and that’s the goal for us.”