UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — On the 20-month anniversary of his highly publicized dismissal from Purdue University's men's basketball team, Kelsey Barlow said he feels indebted to the University of Illinois at Chicago for giving him a second chance.
"It's really a fortunate thing that I'm here after the whole Purdue situation," Barlow, who was bounced from the Boilermakers by head coach Matt Painter on Feb. 17, 2012, for violating team rules, said Thursday. "I think I need to prove my worth to UIC more than anyone else. They're the ones spending the money now."
Barlow, a fifth-year senior, is referring to the two-year scholarship the Flames offered him. He spent the first season off the UIC roster due to NCAA transfer rules, but is returning to a Division I lineup this year for his shot at redemption.
The former Boilermaker and one of the Big Ten's stingiest defenders in his time in West Lafayette made the Horizon League's preseason all-conference second team even though he's never suited up for the Flames. UIC head coach Howard Moore said the 6-foot-5 Barlow, 22, will certainly be the team's starting point guard.
"It's going to wind up being a good story," Moore said. "This kid has been through enough adversity where he's grown because of it.
"A lot of things were said after his departure at Purdue. Whether they're right or wrong, he wanted the chance to redeem himself."
Barlow said he's matured a great deal since his three years with Purdue, which were marred by several off-the-court incidents. During his sophomore season, he was suspended prior to the NCAA tournament for conduct detrimental to the team. The final straw for Painter was during Barlow's junior year, when he was reportedly kicked out of a West Lafayette bar, according to The Associated Press.
Lt. Gary Sparger of the West Lafayette Police Department said in the story that Barlow had told the bar staff "he had left his wallet inside but was not allowed back in," according to the report. Three days later, Barlow told Purdue's student newspaper, The Exponent, "I was at the bar, and I wasn't supposed to be there."
Purdue associate sports information director Chris Forman said "Coach Painter will not comment on the subject," but Barlow said the events that led to his dismissal described to him by Painter on Feb. 17, 2012, were not entirely correct.
Painter "said his bit, and then I was off the team," Barlow said of his meeting with Painter. "It was really inaccurate ... but I was a guy who had been in trouble. He had some information that was true, but a lot of that info was inaccurate. I hadn't been arrested. Everyone there was over 21. But me being there was wrong in itself. That's what counts. I guess he was rightfully accurate in dismissing me, but what all went down is not fully accurate.
"Things got hot, and I guess I can't blame him for getting rid of a wild card."
Barlow, who probably is best known on the court for a monster dunk over Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, also was recognized for his "choke" gesture against Indiana and for a Mohawk haircut. Barlow added that "my behavior was something that wasn't normal or expected in West Lafayette for a college Division I basketball athlete that represents the university on TV."
"Some things I did were wrong, but some things just weren't normal," Barlow said. "People don't like the unknown, and [athletes] have to conform. Whether it's right or wrong, people want to see their product act the right way."
Moore said Barlow, who is on track to graduate with a degree in sociology in the spring, has done just that since arriving on campus in August 2012. Moore said assistant coach Stew Robinson keeps an "accountability board" that he checks off each week with Barlow. The Flames' head coach added that Barlow "hasn't been the perfect person, but I think the main thing is he's made strides moving forward."
"He needs to focus on being a great college player, being a good teammate and being a very good citizen," Moore said.
Moore said Barlow's new teammates "gravitate toward him."
UIC senior Hayden Humes calls Barlow, who started 22 of 26 games with Purdue his junior season, a "freak athlete, really talented."
Barlow lives with fellow Flames Jake Wiegand, Joey Miller and Will Simonton in a campus dorm. Simonton, a junior center, said Barlow is almost never at home because he's always in the gym shooting.
"If he is [in the dorm], he's hanging out with the guys," Simonton said. "If anything [the Purdue situation] has made him hungrier and definitely made the rest of us step up our game."
Barlow's father Ken said he didn't think his son would play Division I hoops again after leaving Purdue. Ken Barlow instead thought his son would compete at Division II University of Indianapolis, in Barlow's hometown, where he dominated at Cathedral High School.
"Quite frankly, I thought Kelsey was going to take a step down and play Division II basketball," said Ken Barlow, a former star at Notre Dame who was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the 1986 NBA draft.
In choosing UIC, his son demonstrated "he wanted to challenge himself at a higher level," the elder Barlow said.
UIC began to factor into Barlow's decision because Ken Barlow and Robinson had been friends since competing against each other in high school. Robinson told Moore about Barlow's talent — and his departure at Purdue — during the 2011-2012 season.
After the season, Moore talked with Barlow and his father over the phone. A few weeks later, the Barlows visited the UIC campus, where Moore and Robinson stressed Kelsey's time in Chicago would be a "zero-tolerance situation," Moore said.
"The whole process took a couple months, and there was some soul-searching on both sides," said Moore. He's talked with Painter, and said the Purdue coach asks "how [Barlow's] doing and wants to see him do well."
"By coming here, Kelsey took the hard route," Moore added. "This kid is in a big media market. He could have easily disappeared into oblivion, but this kid decided not to fold. He wants to finish the right way."
The Flames opened 9-1 last season and finished 18-16. They were picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Horizon League in the preseason poll.
Barlow doesn't care a bit.
His focus rests with another date — Nov. 9, 2013 — the night of the Flames' first regular-season game, against Drake.
"I'm sure it will be a good feeling when the first horn blows," he said.