A mascot is one of, if not the most, recognizable cornerstones of any sports organization. However, just like walk-ons on a college basketball team, those that hold the position, those veiled by the mask, are often unknown. Their work shines, yet they rarely, if ever, receive the credit they deserve for what they produce.
When senior Cullen Barr came to campus for his freshman year in 2013-2014, he heard there would be walk-on tryouts for the men’s basketball team, and he knew he could not pass up the opportunity. An All-Conference player in high school, Barr felt he had a decent shot at making the team. However, when his name was not called, he moved on to “the next logical thing”: embracing the life of D’Artagnan.
How tough were mascot tryouts? “You just had to run around with the flag and act out some scenarios. It was awesome, I absolutely loved it.”
As the mascot, Barr was courtside for the Crosstown Classic, as it was then called. It was played at US Bank Arena that year,
“One side was UC, and the whole other side was Xavier. We won, so that was fun.”
Along with working the games, he also had the chance to do community events.
“I got to play a broomball game in Fountain Square against other mascots. The Bearcat was there, the Reds mascots were there, the Cyclone was there.”
Concurrently with being the chief morale officer of Xavier basketball games, Barr was fine-tuning his basketball skills as a member of the women’s practice squad. After an unforgettable freshman year as the mascot, he “hung up the suit” and focused his attention on helping the women’s team improve. As an underclassman, he was still learning the ropes of college life and becoming acquainted with his new community.
Largely unfamiliar with Xavier before enrolling, Barr quickly grew to love the school. “I visited the campus doing an Ohio road-trip and I fell in love with the campus. I felt really at home, it just felt right.”
Then as a bonus, “Oh, they have a sweet Division I basketball team I can support. Ever since I sent in my deposit I started following them and learning about the history.”
Listed at 6’7” 230 pounds, it’s hard to miss him. Although, his physical features are far from the only reason he is one of the more recognizable figures on Xavier’s campus. He’s the Chancellor of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi. He was a Manresa leader, donning one of those emphatic t-shirts as he assisted first-years in their transition to college. He is also an intramural basketball champion.
In college, while the ramifications and implications of intramural championships are slim, they are experiences of success nonetheless. When his team won the intramural championship, the victory earned them a spot in the crosstown intramural championship: a showdown with the Bearcats’ winning team at Schmidt Fieldhouse. They won that too.
There is little that Barr has not experienced as a student at Xavier University. But, in the recesses of Barr’s brain, deep down, he knew there was one last gap that needed to be filled, one achievement he had come close to realizing. He was left standing at the well without water freshman year. With one year left in his college career, this was his last chance to procure one last drop of water from the well of a college experience that kept on giving.
This year, the same news circulated campus, that the men’s basketball team was once again holding walk-on tryouts. This time, after living his college life to the fullest, Barr did not want to let the chance go. The tryout barely scraped a half-hour, and when it was over he had to hope he had done enough.
Around one week later, he received a call informing him that he was to meet with Coach Mack concerning his tryout. Mack laid out the expectations on the court and off the court and offered him a spot on the team. He had made the team, and it was a “dream come true.”
His family knew he tried out freshman year and they were excited for a second opportunity. When he made it, “They were kind of a little bit skeptical at first, they were like ‘Well, does it fit in with your classes and are you going to get enough credits to graduate?’” After he reassured them that everything would be fine, he said they were “pumped and elated.”
“The support I’ve been getting going through the tryout process (from friends and family) has been second to none.”
He joins a group of four non-scholarship players after Tim Stainbrook was granted a scholarship for this season: fellow senior Alex Bergen, and freshmen Conor Peterson and Leighton Schrand.
While there are some sizeable players that occupy the post on Xavier’s team, Barr’s physique and his own skills are nothing to be scoffed at. He received a few Division III offers, but he chose Xavier to focus on his education. His senior year at Carmel Catholic High School, Barr made the East Suburban Catholic Conference All-Conference team. Team member Sean O’Mara was named to that same elite group, and the conference’s player of the year that season was Kentucky standout Tyler Ulis, who now plays for the Phoenix Suns.
Barr is conscious of the role he plays as a walk-on on an elite college program. His goal is to help his teammates grow and progress, “I’m getting better by making my teammates better. I’m not too worried about my personal skill development.”
He knows that going into practice every day, there’s at least one thing he can bring. “Every day I make sure that when I go into practice, I try to clear my mind and go in there with as much energy as possible. My main thing is energy.”
Barr has studied abroad, lead an orientation group, lived in the student section, attended the Big East tournament, and traveled to various away games.
“I want to look around and enjoy everything, but at the same time I got to buckle down, we have a job to do as a team.”
He is soaking in the experience and making the most of it, as displayed by the Irish jig he performed on stage when he was introduced at Musketeer Madness.
If you look at the @XavierMBB cover photo, Kaiser Gates is shooting free throws and there’s Cullen, in the student section, juxtaposed next to Kaiser’s arm, making an X while donning his overalls behind the basket.
If you look at his Instagram feed, he has a screenshot from when he was captured in the crowd by a TV camera. He has seen many a game from the stands, and now he will be experiencing them in an entirely different way.
“How cool would that be to be in that position? And now it really is a dream come true. I’m very thankful.”