Harrison Barnes was a fan of the Chicago Bulls while growing up but it had more to do with their proximity to his hometown of Ames, Iowa, than the legacy of Michael Jordan. Barnes was born in 1992 and was too young to appreciate Jordan while the Bulls won six NBA championships. He later studied film of his now-favorite player.
“I got all the games in my house. The moment I remember was the 360 layup on Bill Laimbeer” in 1989, Barnes said, when asked about Jordan. “My earliest memory of Michael was when he was on the Wizards. We don’t need to talk about that. It wasn’t the same Michael as the Bulls. Your body can only take so much mileage.”
Barnes chose North Carolina based largely on his affinity for Jordan and he faced incredible pressure to dominate college basketball to elevate the Tar Heels back to a national championship. He put up respectable numbers but fell well short of those expectations. Many league executives, scouts and talent evaluators still believe that he will be better in the pros than in college.
“I’d like to think so. I like isolation basketball. That’s what the NBA is slowly turning into,” Barnes said. “Maybe that means my game is more suited to the pro level. This is all you do now, your job is simply to go out and play basketball. I think I’ll be able to penetrate. I think my game will be able to flourish.”
The 6-foot-8 Barnes also understands that he was part of the problem at North Carolina, where he made comments about the importance of establishing a brand – which made it appear to some that he wasn’t focused enough on getting better as a player.
“I said a lot of things in college, some of them, probably a little prematurely, so I think the best thing for me to do is to focus on the basketball court and . . . everything else will take care of itself. Just be ready to work and be patient,” Barnes said. In the NBA “everyone is an all-American, everyone was college player of the year, everyone is this that and the third. You have to be very humble and make your way to the top.”
The Wizards acquired Trevor Ariza from New Orleans last week, but if Barnes winds up being the choice at No. 3, the team believes that Barnes could play either small forward or shooting guard in the NBA. “I might play the two, Ariza might play the three, Ariza might play the two or I might play the three, but with a dynamic point guard like John Wall, guys that will get to the rim extremely fast and pushes it, I think me and Ariza can get out and run,” Barnes said. “Shooting guard will be an adjustment, but I feel I can do that as well.”
Barnes is one of the more polished players in the draft, providing well-crafted, politically correct answers without revealing too much emotion or feeling in interviews. When asked who came out ahead in a one-on-one battle during a workout in Cleveland, Barnes said: “That’s for them to decide. We battled. We got after it.” When asked to pick between Kyrie Irving or John Wall, Barnes replied: “I’m good friends with both. I’m going to have to go with no comment.”
After enduring two years of scrutiny in college, Barnes doesn’t expect to get a free pass at the next level.
“Everyone is criticized to some extent,” Barnes said. “But that’s part of the agreement. If you decide to play basketball at a high level, you’re going to be criticized. I think you have to take the knocks in stride and keep moving.”
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