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How about a little roundball talk in Grapefruit League?

BRADENTON, Fla. — This is supposed to be a weekly update on the Pirates and spring training baseball, but first … how about a little basketball?

Basketball legend Rick Barry attended the Pirates-Orioles game Thursday at LECOM Park and I had a few minutes to chat with him. And, thanks to Joe Shuta for taking my picture with Barry, too.

Now 74, Barry had a fabulous basketball career and is still the only player in history to win season-scoring titles in the NCAA (University of Miami), NBA (San Francisco Warriors) and ABA (Oakland Oaks). He also became one of the first players to become a successful broadcaster.

A native of New Jersey, Barry became an All-American at the University of Miami, averaging 34.7 points as a senior in 1965. He was the Warriors’ top draft pick and won NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1966.

The affable Barry is “enjoying retired life” and is a big baseball fan, noting “I wanted to be a professional baseball player as a kid.”

Noted for his unorthodox foul-shooting (he shot underhand), Barry retired from the NBA in 1980 with a .900 free-throw percentage which ranked first in NBA history. A 6-foot-7 small forward, Barry was selected as one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history by the league in 1996.

Barry, whose four sons also played professional basketball, was elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1987.

I asked him if he knew the name “Doug West.”

“Played for the Timberwolves, right?” he replied.

When told West is a high school coach in Altoona, PA, Barry said, “good for him staying in the game.”

Barry didn’t say if he’s a Pirate fan, but he was on the field watching the Bucs take batting practice and his traveling buddies wore Pirate caps.

To the diamond

With two losses (a split squad) to the Blue Jays Friday, the Pirates’ Grapefruit League record evened out at 7-7 at that time.

Ex-Curve infielders Ke’Bryan Hayes and Cole Tucker have been standouts and drawing raves from Pirate brass. Hayes hit two homers, one a ninth-inning game-winner against the Marlins in the season opener, and Tucker smacked two homers, including the game-winner, against the Orioles on Thursday.

Kevin Newman, another former Curve player, is in a battle for the starting shortstop job with Eric Gonzalez. Newman gives a lot of credit for his improvement to Joey Cora, who managed him in Altoona a couple years ago, and now coaches third base for the Bucs. (More on Newman next week).

We took a side trip to Tampa on Wednesday and saw the Cardinals beat the Yankees, 9-5, before 10,000 fans at Steinbrenner Field. It’s a beautiful complex – one of the best in Florida. One of the most expensive, too.

Sign here, please

Add to Jean and Joan’s autographs: Aaron Boone and Billy Burns of the Yankees; Jacob Faria, Emilio Bonifacio, Mike Zunino, Guillermo Heredia and Garcia Avisal of the Rays; Andrew Susac, Austin Hays, Eric Young Jr., and Anthony Santander of the Orioles; Richard Urena of the Blue Jays and Melky Cabrera of the Pirates.

Familiar faces

Altoona area folks seen at the ballpark recently: Shuta, Terry and Molly Goldstein, Jim Huff, Bill Beard Jr., and District 6 chairman Mike Hudak, whose daughter works in the Orioles’ PR department.

Strawberries and more

We made our annual trek to the Strawberry Festival in Plant City recently and also dined at the Red Lobster, Outback, Denny’s, Cracker Barrel and Bella Mia recently.

Until next week …

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.

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