Harrison Barnes is the rare draft prospect who has lower expectations entering the NBA than he had entering college. Barnes was one of the most hyped players to ever set foot on a college campus — he was the first freshman to ever be named a preseason All-American before playing a game.
Based on the expectations for Barnes, he fell well short. But based on what he actually did in two seasons at North Carolina, Barnes really wasn’t all that bad: He still left Chapel Hill as one of just six North Carolina players to ever average at least 15 points in each of his first two seasons.
Whether or not Barnes, a 6-foot-8 swingman, showed enough of the intangibles to warrant being selected third in the NBA draft is up to Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and his scouting department to determine. Barnes, though, has already proven adept at playing under pressure to perform for some time.
“Coming out of high school, there was a lot of hype, a lot of criticism, all that kind of stuff,” Barnes said. “I’ve been in the spotlight. So that’s something that’s just become second nature. I’m used to being in it. I don’t try to overthink it. You just be yourself and hopefully, it’s accepted.”
Barnes didn’t lead the Tar Heels to a national championship, or consistently dominate the opposition in big games, but was reliable, relatively consistent and found a way to play his role on a team with four players expected to go in the first round on June 28.
“Harrison was in a lose, lose situation,” said Kendall Marshall, Barnes’s teammate the past two seasons at North Carolina. “They put him on such a pedestal, it’s pretty hard to live up to. But I think he had a tremendous two years and he’s going to go on and have a great career.”
Once considered a favorite to go No. 1 overall in the 2011 NBA draft, Barnes slipped after an uneven freshman season, then opened himself up to more criticism when he returned for his sophomore season.
Barnes had a tendency to drift, but he was steadily moving at his own pace, even when others demanded him to be more assertive. He spent enough time in school to have questions raised about his athleticism, ability to penetrate and to use his first step to get by defenders.
“Obviously, criticism will be there, whether you’re playing well or not. You just have to learn to play with it and just be as professional as possible,” Barnes said. “I have no control over that. Whatever the expectations are, it’s not going to make me change my game or how hard I work. The biggest thing is establishing a good work ethic and changing the culture in terms of how hard you work, putting in time in the gym. That’ll earn the respect of your teammates and let them listen to you more.”
“I think it’s daylight and darkness difference,” Barnes said, when asked about what aspects of his game that he had to contain in college. “At Carolina, I was surrounded by great players and we felt like we were one of the more talented teams in the country, so my job was pretty specific. I was there to score. In the NBA, it’s different. You kind of have to change your game a little bit and play NBA basketball.
“Immediately going into an NBA system, I’ll have to immediately work on ball-handling and creating for others and I think they’ll go hand in hand, being able to create shots for other people will not only make them better, but it will make you better,” he said. “Only time will tell.”
The Wizards haven’t scheduled a workout with Barnes yet, but he met with them in Chicago and said he expects to come to Washington at some point. If the Wizards pass on him, Barnes is expected to land in Cleveland, where he would be paired with his good friend, Kyrie Irving. Barnes deflected rumors that the Cavaliers desperately wanted him.
“It’s all poker faces around here, like, ‘Hey, how ya doing?’ ” Barnes said. “You can’t tell who’s interested and who’s not. The only thing you can do is try to leave the best impression possible.”
More from The Washington Post