Luke Barnett stars at Mater Dei instead of playing for father


“Luuuuke,” was the cry from the bleachers that brought a smile to the face of Mater Dei sophomore guard Luke Barnett.

An Aliso Niguel assistant coach was trying to get his attention.

Then Barnett made a three-pointer from the baseline , causing the entire Aliso Niguel basketball team to erupt with applause, some even standing. Who knew that one player had his own rooting section at the Rancho Mirage tournament this week.

In one of the strangest oddities playing out for a second season in high school basketball, Barnett is the son of longtime Aliso Niguel coach Keith Barnett. Dad thought he’d be coaching son, but in a family decision based on what was best for the future, Luke enrolled at Mater Dei as a freshman seeking to play Division 1 basketball, with the Barnetts entrusting Hall of Fame coach Gary McKnight to develop him.

No regrets so far.

“Everything is going good,” said Barnett, who is a top three-point scoring threat, has a 4.6 grade-point average and is a key sixth man for Mater Dei (13-1).

Aliso Niguel basketball coach Keith Barnett poses for a photo while sitting in bleachers.

Aliso Niguel basketball coach Keith Barnett let his son, Luke, attend Mater Dei.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

His father has been able to see many of Barnett’s games and luckily had his team playing at Rancho Mirage in the same tournament as the Monarchs this week, but don’t ever expect Aliso Niguel to schedule a game against Mater Dei.

“No,” Keith said.

That would cause too much family tension. With six children, the Barnetts have only one attend Aliso Niguel. The others went or will be attending their home school, Dana Hills, except for Luke, who played youth basketball with many of the Mater Dei players and decided to stay the course.

“It was a difficult decision, but I wanted what was best for him,” Barnett’s father said. “Mater Dei is a special program with an opportunity for him to challenge himself. I trust those coaches. I know he’s getting great instruction.”

McKnight appreciates having a top player who is not running away even though he’d be good enough to start at many schools. “That makes my life easier,” he said.

Since Barnett knows someone with a key to the Aliso Niguel gym, he’s familiar with most of the players having worked out with them, so the fact they would offer him some cheers speaks to the respect they have for him as a player and person.

The big question is how dad, in his 21st season at Aliso Niguel, keeps his bosses happy having let a player of his son’s caliber get away.

“My AD wasn’t thrilled and some of my assistants weren’t,” Keith said.

Obama in attendance

St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn in Hawaii coaching with the 44th president, Barack Obama, watching over his shoulder.

St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn in Hawaii coaching with the 44th president, Barack Obama, watching over his shoulder in the bleachers.

(Nate Yonamine)

St. John Bosco coach Matt Dunn has faced plenty of pressure situations, whether dealing with close games or handling despondent parents in need of a hug, but what he encountered two weeks ago during a tournament in Hawaii will go down as one of his most memorable moments.

He found out after halftime that the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama, was sitting in the bleachers looking directly over Dunn’s shoulder.

“What a unique experience,” Dunn said. “He’s close friends with one of the families from St. John Bosco. I had heard rumors he was coming. That’s about as special as it gets. I didn’t see him come in. I noticed at halftime. When we came out of the locker room, I looked up, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool.’”

The moment was captured by a local photographer with Dunn wearing his Hawaiian shirt and Obama looking focused on the game.

“That’s one we’ll keep forever,” Dunn said.

Big week ahead

Trinity League play begins this coming week with three huge matchups. St. John Bosco plays at JSerra on Wednesday, then faces Mater Dei at Arena on Saturday as part of the Coastal Catholic Classic. Mater Dei plays JSerra on Friday at Mater Dei.

There’s an intriguing game on Saturday at Lynwood High, where two prolific sophomore players, Jason Crowe Jr. of Lynwood and Alijah Arenas of Chatsworth, will meet in a game at 6 p.m. And St. Pius X-St. Matthias is set to face Sierra Canyon on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Cerritos College.

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