MHERST - He's originally from Indianapolis, he's played in Spain and coached in Wyoming.
But home is where the heart is, and Tony Barbee's heart is here.
"Coming back is a dream come true, one that I didn't think would happen so soon," said Barbee, who returns to the University of Massachusetts as a men's basketball assistant coach this season. "I know all the guys, and now I can come back with some experience that goes beyond the East Coast."
Barbee spent last year as an assistant at Wyoming, which reached the NIT. He returned to UMass to fill an opening left when John Robic took the head coaching job at Youngstown State, and assistant coach Geoff Arnold was elevated to Robic's position as associate coach.
Barbee admits that a life on the prairie is not what he had in mind, but one year of it had its value.
"Actually, I like it," said Barbee, who graduated from UMass in 1993 and is the school's No. 4 all-time scorer with 1,643 points. "It was a good learning experience, and it's a good program."
Barbee explored coaching after a brief post-college playing career in Europe. Despite the Minutemen's 14-16 slide last season, he insists UMass is still a national name in college basketball.
"You'd tell kids where you were from, and their eyes would light up," said Barbee, whose hiring was at least partly made with an eye on improving UMass' recruiting capabilities. "We can definitely have a national recruiting presence."
Barbee's presence may give the UMass staff an intermediary to bridge the gap between players and staff this season. At 28, he's young enough to relate to players but has been building the experience to serve as an adult role model.
"It's important to develop relationships with the kids, to let them know they can just come in and talk," he said. "It doesn't have to be about a problem.
"The kids we have like to hang around the basketball office when they have a chance, and it was like that when I played, too," Barbee said. "It's not just about basketball, and it's been that way around here for a long time."
Perhaps that's helped UMass produced a fair number of coaches. Former players Derek Kellogg (Youngstown State) and Tyrone Weeks (St. Bonaventure) also assume new assistant coaching duties this season.
UMass is reportedly still in the hunt for Taliek Brown, a 5-foot-11 point guard from St. John's Prep in Astoria, N.Y. Several recruiting services have placed Brown among the better available point guards in the country.
According to Van Johnson of FastBreak Recruiting, Brown has narrowed his choices to UMass, St. John's, Connecticut, Kentucky and Syracuse. He's not expected to make a decision until after the season.
UMass is also pursuing Mike Boynton, another point guard from New York City (Bishop Loughlin High in Brooklyn). Brown is considered the better of the two, but both can play.
Scott Hazelton, a 6-7 forward from Lawrence, will attend UConn. Hazelton, who gave UMass serious consideration but did not include the Minutemen among his final three choices, chose the Huskies over Villanova and Syracuse this week.
UMass coach Bruiser Flint said it shouldn't have been surprising that his former boss, John Calipari, took an assistant coach's job with the Philadelphia 76ers. "Hey, he still wants to coach, that's all," said Flint, just back after 17 days on the recruiting trail.