OPRF basketball star plans to transfer

Barnes cites racism for leaving Oak Park

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

After two years at Oak Park and River Forest High School, highly touted 2021 college basketball prospect Isaiah Barnes has decided to transfer to another school to close out his senior year. This will mark his second time transferring to a different program after playing his freshman year at Romeoville High School and his sophomore and junior years at OPRF.

Barnes and his family haven't decided on his next destination or a timetable for when they will make that decision. But, Barnes said an ongoing problem with race in the community was one of the leading factors in his decision to move.

"This was a family decision, and we had some time to think it through," said Barnes on a phone call with Wednesday Journal on April 23. "My main factor in making that decision is that there is a lot of profiling that is going on in Oak Park and race-related things going on in the last couple of years. We felt like leaving the school was the best decision for me."

Barnes is the second athlete in the last week to say he'd experienced racism at OPRF, although Barnes didn't share specific instances of racism.

"This environment in Oak Park makes it hard to focus on everything at once," said Barnes. "Switching environments where I have nothing to worry about but schoolwork and basketball would be the best fit."

OPRF, through its communications director, Karin Sullivan, sent a statement in response to Barnes' statements regarding his experience at OPRF:

"We are really sorry to see Isaiah leave OPRF High School and wish him nothing but the best. In the past two years, we've taken several steps to address issues of race in ways that directly affect students.

"These include hiring a director of equity and student success, offering our racial equity course, forming a diverse Student Leadership Group that advises the superintendent and administration, creating our racial equity policy, and revising our curriculum with a focus on relevancy and equity in terms of content, materials, and pedagogy.

"We are working hard to make sure that all students are treated fairly and equitably."

In terms of the on-court loss for the Huskies, Barnes is leaving behind the 18 points and 7 rebounds per game that he averaged last season. As a team, OPRF finished the season 17-11, but it didn't quite live up to the preseason expectations that had them as a state title contender. Barnes was also sidelined with a knee injury during the team's loss to Lane Tech in the first round of IHSA regional tournament on March 4.

Heading into the 2019-20 campaign, Barnes was ready to build on a propsect profile that already included a scholarship offer from University of Illinois. He also plays for the Illinois Wolves -- a UAA team that has some of the area's best prospects, Fenwick's Bryce Hopkins and OPRF's Josh Smith among them.

Since the season ended, the list of colleges recruiting Barnes has dramatically expanded. He says he now has offers from University of Georgia, University of Iowa, University of Wisconsin-Madison, St. Louis University, University of Maryland, Texas Christian University and University of Kansas.

"It's very exciting getting some recognition for the work that I put in," said Barnes. "It's a long process and it's going to take a while before I make a decision on what school is the best fit for me [in college]. I am very grateful for every offer that has come my way."

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Reader Comments

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Mikhail Ivanov  

Posted: April 25th, 2020 11:04 AM

Transfer? Between public schools? Wouldn't you just move to the area with the school you want to attend? Or go to a private school? The situation seems odd...but I'm sorry that he faced racism at OPRFHS.

George Irving Thompson from Oak Park  

Posted: April 25th, 2020 7:16 AM

Reviewing the IHSA basketball eligibility rules there is significance interest in limiting eligibility for a non-resident of a public school and eligibility appears to be tightly tied to residential requirements of the student's family. It would appear there is an explicit intention in the rules that students are not allowed to simply change schools to promote their sports careers or to help one school gain competitive advantage over another by allowing them to recruit students. Not enforcing the spirit of these rules would appear to be unhealthy for the students and for the state sport programs in general. So the whole tone of the article appears to be possibly unethical and unhealthy for the student at the age of high school, whose guardian's primary interest should be in academic success, not sport program success. Sport career success considerations would be appropriate later in life with college selection and college sport participation.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: April 24th, 2020 10:03 AM

Doing an athletic transfer and not losing IHSA eligibility in that sport is tricky. Doing two transfers in one short 4 year career is amazing.

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