Yunio Barrueta was a self-admitted “mama’s boy” … at least until his father got sick with lymphoma in December of 2014.
“When he got [cancer] I became real close to my dad,” said Barrueta, a senior forward at Barry University. “I dedicated last season to him. I’m doing it for both of [my parents] this season.”
And what a season he’s having.
From pro to prep, men or women, it can be argued that nobody in South Florida is having a better basketball season than Barrueta.
The 6-6, 225-pounder leads the Division II Sunshine State Conference in scoring (25.3) and rebounding (10.8). He is also second in three-point percentage with a 48.1 clip.
Last Saturday, Barrueta tied a school record with 10 three-pointers, making 10 of 16 in a 98-85 win over Rollins. Barrueta had a career-high 40 points, just the third Barry player to reach that number.
Barrueta also had 13 rebounds and four blocks against Rollins, and he made nine of his three-pointers in the second half.
Barry coach Butch Estes said his star player — the only child of Fernando Barrueta, who is now cancer-free, and Martha Castillo — is the most family-oriented college kid he’s ever seen.
“Most kids when they go off to college, family is not as high a priority,” Estes said. “But Yunio stops everything and makes sure his father is OK.”
Barrueta, a native of Cuba, got an awesome — if slightly delayed — Christmas present when he was 5 years old. The date was Dec. 26, 1998, and that’s when he and his parents were allowed to leave Cuba.
They settled in Hialeah, and Barrueta tried out for the basketball team at Hialeah Gardens Middle School as a 6-foot “skinny and scrawny” kid.
That was the assessment of Marcos Molina, who at the time was coaching the middle school team. Molina soon became a key figure in Barrueta’s life, coaching him at Hialeah Gardens High and later recruiting him to Barry.
Barrueta was a freshman the year Hialeah Gardens High opened.
“I told him, ‘You don’t know this yet, but you will be the face of this program when we turn this program around and win a state title,’ ” Molina said.
Those words became a reality when Barrueta helped lead Class 8A Hialeah Gardens to its first state title as a senior in 2012.
After that achievement, Barrueta went off to play Division I basketball at East Tennessee State. But after averaging only 2.4 points there, Barrueta transferred to Barry.
There were many factors for the move — increased playing time, being closer to his family and a reunion with several of the people he won a state title with at Hialeah Gardens, including Molina, who was briefly an assistant at Barry, and players Adrian Gonzalez, Philly Leonardo and Alvaro Simoza. Only Barrueta and Gonzalez remain at Barry.
“It was like high school all over again,” Barrueta said. “I was excited.”
Once he returned home, Barrueta — who did not have to sit out a year as he would’ve had he transferred to another Division I school — continued his ultra-close relationship with his parents.
He lives in a dorm at Barry, but he sleeps at his parents’ house on most weekends. His dad cooks the meat, and his mom makes the rice and beans.
In addition, his parents come to his games and even his practices, and Barrueta is putting on quite a show for them. He entered this year as a Sporting News second-team preseason All-American, and he is living up to that hype.
Barry (10-2, 4-1) is in second place in its conference. Its only losses were close — 74-72 to Florida Southern and 100-99 to Palm Beach Atlantic. Barrueta averaged 21.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in those two games.
“I’m glad we don’t have to play against him,” Estes said.
Barrueta, who is set to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Criminology on May 7 and is planning a career in law enforcement after he is done playing ball, sustained his first serious injury while working out this past offseason.
In May, he broke his right foot, which doctors told him was a wear-and-tear injury.
“He is an exceptionally hard worker,” Estes said, “but he wasn’t able to work like he normally does until August.”
Barrueta said the injury left him “depressed,” and he gained nearly 20 pounds because of the inactivity.
But now he’s back and better than ever, and Estes said he is getting numerous calls from agents who want to represent Barrueta once he starts his pro career.
“Yunio is an outstanding all-around player,” Estes said.
“He’s obsessive when it comes to rebounding. Teams will block him out once or twice, but they can’t block him out the whole game. He’s going to keep coming.”