According to the dictionary, a leader is the one in charge, the person who convinces other people to follow. A great leader inspires confidence in other people and moves them to action.
When you think of leaders in sports, it is the quarterback, the captain, or the best player on a team that comes to mind. But what about the leaders behind the scenes?
It takes a person of exceptional quality to influence those more accomplished than he is. SDSU is fortunate to have someone like that on their roster. Non-scholarship point guard Jared Barnett has spent three seasons with SDSU’s basketball team in the shadows, competing every day and pushing himself and his teammates to get better.
“A lot of times, I’m not the guy that is really out there leading us out there on the court, being a scout team player and not being on scholarship,” Tyler Broughton said on an upcoming SDSU Basketball podcast. “But there is definitely other ways to lead the team.”
Barnett prides himself on his leadership. It is part of his identity. He is among those gifted with the understanding of how his actions impact others. The headline of his LinkedIn reads, “Passionate Leader on and off the basketball court.” His role on the Aztecs is unconventional, and so is his leadership style.
John Maxwell is famous for his books on leadership. One of his chief insights is some people have authority because of their position, others because of their production, but the best leaders earn the right to influence because of the relationship they form with those around them. Maxwell ranks leadership styles in a hierarchy shaped like a pyramid with positional leadership on the bottom and relational leadership on the top. Barnett thrives at Maxwell’s top levels.
“You’re not really going to listen to somebody that you don’t have a good relationship with,” Barnett said on an upcoming episode of the SDSU Basketball podcast. “Being here over the years, I’m pretty cool with everybody on the team. They also know that at practice, I’m going to go at them, so they respect me for that. That makes it a lot easier if you’re respected on the court as you are off the court.”
Barnett’s most outward leadership role is as the point guard of the scout team. Without his expertise in getting the rest of the players set up and running the Aztecs’ opposition’s sets, the players in the rotation would be unable to have a quality look at what they will face in the game. More than anyone, it is Barnett who pushes the scholarship athletes.
“Those guys (non-scholarship players) are just great guys,” Jordan Schakel said on an upcoming SDSU Basketball Podcast. “They are a big part of why we’ve had success. Being there every day preparing us. It’s a testament to the program and what the coaching staff looks for because everybody contributes to winning.”
The Los Angeles native’s skill in influencing others is born out of a high character. In a day and age where the line between public and private lives has all but vanished, Barnett still embodies the old saying, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” He is driven by a desire to be a role-model, hard work, and a deep ambition to play the game of basketball.
Barnett lives at such a high standard because he knows he is a role model to others. His younger brother idolizes him. People will follow because of what a leader has done for them. Being a great big brother, Barnett understands this intuitively.
“One of my brothers, he’s in eighth grade, about to go to high school,” Barnett explained, lighting up with joy. “He’s always trying to play me one on one, always trying to be better than me. My dad told me a couple of weeks ago that he had a project at school, and the teacher asked him, ‘who is your biggest influence?’ He said it was his big brother, me. That really touched me to know that you always have someone looking up to you. That just drives you to be a better person.”
Maxwell’s highest level of leadership, “Pinnacle,” means that people follow because of who you are and what you represent. Barnett stays true to his competitive drive and serves as an exemplar for the way he approaches the game.
“The only way to perform in a game is to perform in practice,” he said. “No matter what your role is, when you get on the basketball court, if they tell you to compete against somebody, you are going to compete.”
Despite only scoring in six games in his three-year college career, Barnett brings his work ethic, relationship skills, and competitiveness with him every day. He is not satisfied with his role and is doing whatever it takes to earn more playing time.
“It’s just work,” Barnet responded when asked what he is focused on this offseason. “We’ve been in the gym every day. I just got back from the gym; it’s just work. I’m trying to get in the weight room a little more, put on some weight, get a little bigger, work on my handle a little bit and come back in the summer, ready to take some minutes.”
“It’s just work.” It is all Barnett is about.
Barnett’s elite effort was refined through the crucible of Covid. He reflected on the measures he had to go through during the pandemic just to get a workout in.
“It was still the pandemic; you couldn’t get in the gym whenever you wanted,” Barnett said. “We were actually working out in the parking structures around SDSU, just getting in the gym wherever we could.”
Barnett has benefitted from older players mentoring him. He has grown through these relationships. As a young guard, he has learned from some of SDSU’s finest backcourt players. He said he picked up being a vocal leader on the court and in practice from Malachi Flynn and KJ Feagin.
Barnett’s competitiveness, mixed with his leadership qualities, makes everyone around him better. He is always looking to get the best out of himself and his teammates.
“For me, it’s competing, whether you are in a workout or just shooting with somebody,” Barnett said on how to keep the day-to-day grind enjoyable. “Say, first one to make ten, or first one to make five layups, that keeps it fun for me being able to compete.”
This type of attitude is why the other non-scholarship athletes such as Cade Alger, Triston, and Tyler Broughton have said that the scout team has defeated the starters a fair amount of times.
“(Barnett’s) usually our point guard on scout, that alone is a defining leadership role,” Tyler Broughton explained. “He does an outstanding job making sure that we are understanding everyone’s position. He does a really good job helping us out when players forget things. He has good leadership qualities for sure, and he is definitely helping us win when we get our wins on scout team.”
During his podcast interview, Schakel wanted it to be known that Barnett and others on the scout team are skilled players in their own right.
“Both J-Red, as we call him, and Cade, really get buckets on the scout team,” Schakel said. “It’s not flukey. They really get buckets. That’s why when they get in the game, we go crazy because we see it every day in practice. We tell them, ‘you better go get a bucket on them too because you’ve been killing us all week.’”
For Barnett, basketball is still his dream. He has unfinished business on the basketball court and is determined to prove himself.
Off the court, after next season, he will graduate with a Master’s degree in Communication. He is taking courses on building relationships, developing interpersonal skills, and leadership. Each of these skills he has developed on the court and will take with him in his future endeavors.
Whenever his basketball career is over, he sees himself as a sports journalist or commentator. Whatever his occupation, he will be the hardest worker in the room and will lead from any role.
Barnett may be inconspicuous as he does not get the same credit for the Aztecs’ success as the scholarship players. But let it be known that he is a leader. The qualities he possesses pushes San Diego State to its highest level.