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Catching Up With Mike Barrett

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We haven't had a chance to talk to our friend Mike Barrett in a while.  He was good enough to answer a few questions for us today.

Blazersedge:  First just an overview:  How is this season going for you?  Is there a different feel this year for you as a broadcaster than in seasons past?  If so, how?

It's been a little different lately, that's for sure.  The winning streak was so unexpected, and so amazing to be a part of.  Obviously, having a chance to win every night makes it so much more enjoyable.  This is going to sound pretty simple, but it's so much easier broadcasting good games.  We've always tried to bring excitement to the telecasts, but in the past four years or so, that's been difficult at times.  Blowout losses aren't fun to do, and that's when, as a broadcaster, you really have to work.  You've got to have so much more prepared when you know it's not going to be an exciting game.  I've said this before, but anyone can call great games.  That's easy.  You're tested when the team is struggling.  So, I was really tested in the past few years.  I took over this job five years ago, when the team was just starting to enter in this rebuilding process.  Actually, in my first season we barely missed the playoffs, and had a pretty good team.  After that, the decision was made to blow things up.  It's so great now to see this team maturing ahead of schedule.  This group of players and coaches is so great to work with.  I've always enjoyed my relationship with the players, but this year it's just been fantastic.  We've got such great guys on this team, and I can't imagine a team being tighter than this group is.  Several players, like Joel Przybilla, and James Jones, guys who've been around the league for a while, have told me the same thing.  The journey back up the hill is much, much better than the slide down the other side.  I've seen both in my five years.

Blazersedge:  Share your memories of the streak with us.  You had the best seat in the house for one of the most remarkable accomplishments any of us will ever see.  What sticks in your mind?

The wins at home have been incredible, because the crowd has been eating this team up.  But, winning on another team's home court is just as fun.  The wins at Utah and Denver were incredible.  There's nothing better than quieting a crowd on the road.  The win at Memphis, to start the streak, was so badly needed.  The wins after that are all kind of a blur.  The home win over Denver, to get the streak to 10, is probably the most memorable, simply because of the crowd at the Rose Garden on that night.  You could have cut the energy in the building with a knife that night.  I hadn't felt it like that in a long time.  The win over Philly, to get the streak to 13, was also memorable.  That fourth quarter run, capped by Travis' jam over Rodney Carney was surreal.  I guess that run was probably about as fun as it's been in my five years in this chair.  The players were so business-like during the streak, and that was impressive.  There were really no big celebrations, and the locker room has been pretty much the same.  That told me so much about the maturity of this group.

Blazersedge:  You travel with the team on the road.  What is the mood like right now?

As I've said, this group of players is so great to be around.  They are such nice guys, and are so accepting of all of us in the broadcasting party.  We're always made to feel part of the team.  We sit up in the front of the plane, in a little room, and one or two players usually come up during flights to hang out with us.  Joel Przybilla and Steve Blake will plop down on the couch and just talk for a while, and the other night Travis Outlaw came up and spent about an hour with us.  He did all the talking.  I one point I looked across at our executive producer, Scott Zachry, and we both agreed that it was probably the longest conversation we've ever had with Travis.  He talked of his family, his childhood in Mississippi, and went on and on.  Sergio always comes up and chats.  He's easily one of the most popular players on this team, and is certainly the funniest.  Even though he's got a much better command of the English language than he did when he first arrived, the terms he uses, and even the slang he's picked up from his teammates always makes us laugh.  This is kind of strange, but one of the best times we've had on a flight came on New Year's Eve, following the loss in Utah.  I'm not sure if the pressure of the winning streak had just be released or what, but the players were all in very good moods.  They were disappointed about the loss, but we had a great time on that flight to Minneapolis.  I walked back to the player's area on the plane at one point, and they were all sitting around in this big circle talking, and laughing.  The flight attendants had passed out New Year's hats and noisemakers, and all the players were wearing the hats, and blowing on horns.  Sergio was teaching a Spanish tradition of eating grapes during the final 10 seconds before midnight.  I don't really understand it, but he thought it was important that everyone join him.  We rang in the new year in a couple of different time zones, never really knowing where we were.  I can't imagine that there's another team like this one in the NBA.  Everyone hangs out with everyone, and many times on the road groups of 8 to 10 guys walk to dinner together.  I've never seen that.  Brandon has taken the entire team out to dinner several times.  They truly enjoy each other and are very much friends.  Most of them are about the same age, and that probably has something to do with it.

Blazersedge:  How much difference does winning make in the atmosphere surrounding the team?

It makes a difference, but the things I've just talked about haven't changed that much.  I've never noticed any negative things, even when the team was 5-12.  Because of the streak, and the success, I guess I'd just say the guys are much more relaxed and sure of themselves.  They know they belong in this league, and feel like they are capable of anything they put their minds to.  They've done a lot of maturing in the last month, as players.  Even in the loss at Utah, they fought their hearts out, and were in that game until the final couple of minutes.  They were satisfied with the effort, and that showed afterwards.  There are going to be rough spots in this season, as everyone knows, but I think following this winning streak, they are much more capable of handing the tough times.  It's amazing that this is the youngest team in the NBA.  They don't act like it.  

Blazersedge:  What Blazer has surprised you most to this point in the season?  Who had you hoped to see more from (and maybe still do)?

I'd put a couple of guys in this category.  Travis Outlaw, of course, was so big during the streak.  To watch his confidence just soar, especially during fourth quarters, has been great to see.  He can still be inconsistent, but he's so much more sure of himself, he's able to battle out of rough stretches.  James Jones, who's one of the nicest guys I know, by the way, has been so huge for this team.  It's no coincidence that when he got healthy and started to play, the winning streak started.  Looking back, I think he was probably the x factor in that whole streak.  His ability to sit in that corner and hit threes has totally opened up the floor, and has given Brandon room to operate.  Channing Frye has also contributed greatly.  We don't win the game at Denver without him.  He stepped up when LaMarcus was out for those five games, and is a great weapon to have in the second unit.  The Zach Randolph trade is looking better all the time, by the way, as Jones and Frye were both a part of that.  Of course, we haven't even seen Rudy Fernandez yet, and the millions saved by cutting off the final two years we would have had to pay Zach will pay off in about 15 months when we're able to sign a big-time free agent to a max deal.  We wouldn't have been this situation if that deal hadn't been made.  Credit Kevin Pritchard and his assistant Tom Penn with making all of this happen.

Blazersedge:  It's in the back of every fan's mind (and I know it must be in the back of yours and the organization's) that now this team has what Harry Glickman called "an honest chance" to make the playoffs.  At what point does that emerge from the back of the mind and start being spoken of as reality?

Mike Rice had a good point following the win at Minnesota.  He's been reluctant to even mention the playoffs.  But, after that win over the Timberwolves, he stated that it was time to start openly talking about it.  It was mainly because the Blazers didn't play a good game, and still won on the road by double figures.  I thought he made a pretty good point with that.  This team still has a lot to prove on the road, and this month of January will be a huge test.  There's a 7-game trip that's looming, and after that we're going to have a much better idea about this team's chances.  We've got to keep in mind that no one gave this team a chance to be in this position.  It's the third-youngest team in NBA history, and the first two on that list won 16 and 15 games in those seasons.  This just doesn't happen.  You're not supposed to be able to win young.  Nate always reminds the team that it turned things totally around in less than a month, and it can regress back to where it was just as quickly.  No one feels that's going to happen, but he uses that as motivation and as a reminder to never let up.  

Blazersedge:  Will Brandon Roy make the All-Star team?

I'd love to say he has a chance, but I don't think he does.  There are just too many talented guards, with big-time names, in the west.  The only way he'll get on the team is if he's named by the coaches.  He won't get the votes from the fans, and we're seeing that.  But, NBA coaches appreciate what Brandon does, and how important he is to his team.  I'm not sure there are many players more valuable to their teams than Brandon is to the Blazers.  He'd love the honor, but he cares much more about helping his team win.  

Blazersedge:  What's the conversation like in Blazer circles about the Comcast situation?  Has there been any change?  What do you foresee?

I can't believe we're into the new year and no agreement has been reached.  It's incredibly frustrating (I know I'm preaching to the choir here).  I know everyone wants to point fingers and find out who is at fault.  That doesn't do us any good at this point.  There was a danger of this happening, but I don't think anyone thought it would be at this point right now.  It was a start-up network, and as we've seen with other networks, like the Big-10 Network, and the NFL Network, situations like this are not unusual these days.  I guess the only thing that I truly know is that no one is benefiting from this current situation.  Comcast needs to get distribution, and is trying to get it done.  They've made an enormous financial commitment to the Blazers, and to the channel.  It's a long-term deal, and that's good news, because when it gets done (and it will get done) we won't have to worry about this situation again.  I just encourage fans to keep making their voices heard and to put pressure on cable and satellite providers.  I'm sure it helps that the team is having success and that fans want these games.  Everyone in the Blazers organization wants this done.  Fans have a right to see the games, if that's what they want.  Even though I have nothing to do with the negotiations, I'm sorry we're in this situation.  

Blazersedge:  Fans are adjusting to the work of Rebecca Haarlow on the sidelines.  The comments have been all over the board, just about everything you'd expect to hear and more.  Give us some insight on what it's been like working with Rebecca.  If you can, also help us understand some of the challenges and adjustments a person in her position faces learning the ropes.

No one works harder than Rebecca.  She was at every single practice during training camp, and I was actually surprised to see her jotting down plays, defensive sets, and rotations.  She's a former track star at Princeton, and her dad even played basketball at Princeton with Geoff Petrie.  In other words, she's been around the game, and knows it.  It can't be easy being around a bunch of dudes all the time, but she's adjusted very well.  She's very professional, and the coaches and players accepted her immediately.  The biggest adjustment for her has probably been the travel.  It's not easy.  Learning the hotels, the arenas, and the cities around the league, just takes time.  You've got to take care of yourself, and get sleep, in this wacky schedule that we keep.  We're always flying at night, and if you're not careful it can back up on you in a hurry.  I've told her this.  There's no fast track for gaining experience in this league, or in this business.  When she's gotten frustrated at times, I've just tried to tell her that.  We're very excited that she's a part of our family.  I think she's improved a ton since the first part of the season, and that will continue.  She's usually in the huddle during timeouts, and the coaches respect her enough to take her aside and let them know what the team is trying to do in different situations.  Hopefully the fans agree that she's been an asset.  We needed a sideline reporter, and she's added a lot to our broadcasts.  And, she's just as nice and personable as she appears to be on TV.  This is not an easy business to break into, but she's done that.  I think she's got a ton of potential and is already better than many of her peers.  

Blazersedge:  How much of a chance have you had to observe Greg Oden travelling with the team?  How do his spirits seem to you?

Honestly, I was around Greg a lot more in training camp and early in the season.  He's travelled with us on a few trips, but has found it easier to rehab at the practice facility.  It's important he gets out here on the road and learns the league, but it's even more important that he gets completely healthy.  He's way ahead of schedule, and I think his spirits are pretty high, all things considered.  I've watched him during some of the home wins, and he's up and high fiving his teammates, and has just been soaking everything up.  The players love him, and I know they wish he was in a uniform instead of a suit.  That will happen soon enough.  The fact that the team has found success without him will only help speed up this process once he's able to play.  

Blazersedge:  What's the biggest challenge facing the team as we head into the heart of the season?

People always talk about young players hitting the wall, and that's my biggest concern.  Veterans know how to budget their time and energy because they know what a grind this season can be.  As long as this team continues to have success, I don't have any significant worries.  But, when the bad stretches come, and they will with this young team, they have to find a way to fight through them emotionally.  We've obviously got the talent to compete, but staying mentally tough is usually the mark of veteran teams.  That's especially the case late in seasons.  We don't know yet how this team will react to these challenges, but Nate has tried his best to prepare them for any situation.  Also, other than Aldridge having to sit out for five games, this team has been pretty healthy.  How they respond to a key player going down will be important, and hopefully we won't have to deal with that.  But, injuries are a reality of this league.  How you respond is what separates good teams from lottery teams.  They've handled the pressure so far, and handling adversity is the next step.  

Thanks to Mike for his always-intriguing answers!

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)