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WHSV Sports Presents: Road to Redemption - The Pee Wee Barber Story

Published: Nov. 5, 2020 at 5:48 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Norwood “Pee Wee” Barber has taken over the role of coach and teacher on the basketball court.

“No layups from here. We are going to take a layup from right here,” Barber proclaims to youth basketball players as he demonstrates the proper technique for a layup during a recent Saturday morning on the outdoor basketball courts located at Ralph Sampson Park and just behind the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center in Harrisonburg.

Barber is teaching the game of basketball to local youth. But those who saw him compete, will tell you he’s one of the best players to ever hoop in the Shenandoah Valley.

“When you talk about basketball players in this area, you would go with Ralph Sampson, you go with Kevin Madden, you go with Mike Madden, Jerry Venable, and Pee Wee Barber," said Jerry Venable, a basketball star from Staunton who went on the play at Kansas State University and for the Harlem Globetrotters.

East Rockingham boys basketball head coach Carey Keyes, who led Spotswood High School to a state championship in the early 1990s, says he developed some of his skills while competing against Barber in pickup games.

“He could go from full speed to stopping on a dime and pulling up and hitting jump shots," said Keyes. "And as a smaller player, I really learned that move from Pee Wee.”

Don Burgess, who currently serves as the head coach of the Harrisonburg boys basketball program and was standout college player at Radford University, says Barber was a gifted player who helped others improve.

“He was listed at six-feet. He was probably about five-ten, five-eleven, very talented and the thing that made Pee Wee so good was one, his competitive nature but two, he made everyone around him better," said Burgess, who is also a cousin of Barber’s.

Barber was a standout basketball player in the early 1980s at Harrisonburg High School. After his prep career ended, he attended Ferrum Junior College before making his way to Florida State University. Over two seasons at FSU from 1985-1987, Barber averaged 18.0 points per game and 4.9 assists per contest while shooting 49.3% from the field. Following his college career, Barber was selected in the NBA Draft by the Portland Trailblazers but injuries kept him from pursuing a pro basketball career.

“(After Florida State) I come home to workout. I start playing ball here, come down on somebody’s foot at the rec center, break my foot two weeks before I am supposed go to LA and play in in the summer league," said Barber. "I got out to Portland, I can’t run. They send me to Topeka Sizzlers, I come home after playing with them, break my leg.”

Following his injuries, Barber’s life would take a dramatic turn. In 2005, he was sentenced to life in prison as a result of drug charges.

“I was one of those idiots," said Barber. "That’s what I am gonna say. That’s the way I was thinking at the time. I started doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing.”

Facing the reality of spending the rest of his life in prison, Barber was granted a second chance. In 2016, former President Barack Obama commuted Barber’s sentence and the Harrisonburg native was set to be released in 2022. However, legislation signed by President Donald Trump led to Barber getting freed earlier than expected in 2019.

“My parents already knew. They knew before I even knew," said Barber. "That was amazing. My daughter and my granddaughters picked me up and as they were approaching, as I was coming out, they was crying and I was crying. I’ll never forget that day man, I’ll never forget it.”

Barber is now out of prison and back home in the Shenandoah Valley. He is focused on teaching the game of basketball to local youth during camps he is hosting on weekends at the outdoor courts at Ralph Sampson Park.

“This is something that I have been wanting to do since I knew I had the chance coming home,” said Barber.

“To be able to teach kids at any level is phenomenal so I give (Barber) kudos for that," said Ralph Sampson, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member and Harrisonburg native who is widely regarded as the best basketball player in the history of the Shenandoah Valley.

Venable added: “It had to take someone and in his predicament, he chose to be that someone, which was there again a great move on his part to rehabilitate himself and show that he is rehabilitated.”

When working with youth from the Shenandoah Valley, Barber’s goal is to teach basketball skills and life lessons.

“I can give my life story on a how a good seed can turn into a bad seed quickly," said Barber. "And I want to start mentoring these kids too. This is just a small part, teaching kids how to play basketball. The next step is becoming a better person.”

For more information about Barber’s basketball camps, search “Pee Wee’s Skills & Drills” on Facebook.

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