Barry University’s men’s basketball team, picked to finish tied for last in the nine-team Sunshine State Conference, is currently in second place, thanks in part to its Hialeah Gardens connection.
Four of the 15 players on the Barry roster played on the Hialeah Gardens High School team that won the Class 8A state title in 2012. The coach of that team, Marcos Molina, is also at Barry as a volunteer assistant.
His former players now at Barry are:
• Adrian Gonzalez, a 6-5, 205-pound freshman wing, is Barry’s sixth man but is third on the team in scoring (12.5). His shooting percentage from the floor (55.0) is among the best in the nation among freshmen.
“[Gonzalez] is very talented offensively and improving defensively,” first-year Barry coach Butch Estes said. “I would think he is the leading contender to win Freshman of the Year in the league.”
• Yunio Barrueta, a powerfully built 6-6, 220-pound sophomore, is second on the team in scoring (14.1) and third in the conference in rebounds (8.9). Two weeks ago, one of his dunks was featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
“[Barrueta] is the most athletic person I’ve ever seen,” Gonzalez said. “He’s a beast. He grabs every rebound, and he bulldozes you on his way to the rim.”
• Alvaro Simoza, a 6-6, 285-pound freshman center, is averaging just 4.7 minutes per game, but he could emerge as a starter next season after Barry’s only senior in the rotation, forward Magne Fivelstad, graduates.
Simoza suffered an ACL injury one year ago and has not yet fully recovered to his previous level of fitness.
“[But] it shows how good [Simoza] is that even with a knee injury, colleges still wanted him,” said Gonzalez, his roommate.
• Henry Leonardo, a 6-5, 195-pound freshman wing, is redshirting this season. He was a reserve on that championship Hialeah Gardens team, and Estes believes he has potential as a defender and rebounder because of his length, athleticism and work ethic.
Put all four together, and it’s an impressive haul for Barry from just one local high school, a fact that the rest of the Barry players have noticed.
“They call us ‘The Garden Boys,’ ” Barrueta said with a laugh.
Barrueta and Gonzalez were excellent Wednesday night when host Barry upset the nation’s sixth-ranked Division II team, Florida Southern, 94-76.
Gonzalez, who usually enters the game five minutes in, had 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Barrueta had 20 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
It was the second time this season that Barry (15-4, 6-4) has defeated a top-15 team. On Dec. 21, the Bucs knocked off No. 13 Livingstone.
The Bucs, who are 10-1 at home, got a boost in June when they hired Estes, a coach with substantial experience.
One of Estes’ first calls was to Molina, who at the time was still at Gardens. Estes, with help from volunteer assistant Justin Furr, was able to sign Gonzalez, Simoza and Leonardo.
When Barrueta, who had just finished his freshman season at East Tennessee State, heard about the “Gardens Party” at Barry, he wanted in.
He transferred back home, and since he went from Division I to Division II, he did not have to sit out the season.
Gonzalez said he and the other former Gardens players were pushing to get Barrueta at Barry, and the results have been great.
“It was important for us to play together again,” Gonzalez said. “But I also think it was important for Barry to get us because we bring that winning intensity.”