Skip to main content

North Carolina super-frosh Harrison Barnes boasts complete arsenal

Barnes, a 6-foot-8, 205-pound wing who's's No. 1-rated prospect in the Class of 2010, is more academically inclined than your typical elite basketball prospect -- an MBA mind in a blue-chipper's body. He is also aware that, in the business of basketball, it may be advantageous for him to leave North Carolina for the NBA before he can obtain either of those degrees -- and so, at the very least, he views his time in college as a networking opportunity. "I'll try to absorb as much as I can, talk to as many people as I can, develop as many relationships as I can," he says. "My hope is to maximize every moment I'm there."

His status as coveted recruit has already provided him with elite networking opportunities: Michael Jordan, during a visit to Chapel Hill; Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Stanford; John Wooden, during a visit to UCLA. It was with Wooden, at his breakfast spot, Vip's, and at his condo in Los Angeles, Barnes said, that he had the most memorable conversation of his recruiting tour. The recently deceased legend talked to the future star about core values that could apply to business and life and helped him redefine the notion of success.

"I usually measure myself by what I achieve," Barnes said. "And Wooden just let me know that if you give your best, to become the best person you can, that's success. So I try to focus now on giving everything that I can be giving. Because even if I'm accomplishing the goals that I set out, if I'm not giving my best effort, then what does that mean?"

I witnessed Barnes giving at Paul's camp. On Day 1, in a suicide-sprint drill, Barnes outran every point guard other than Georgetown's Chris Wright; and after the campers' grueling workout was complete, Barnes was the lone player who remained out on the court, doing additional shooting drills. It may please North Carolina fans to hear that, but they're likely more curious, or anxious, to find out just how much Barnes can give to the Tar Heels in Year 1. He certainly isn't the first recruit of his caliber to enroll at UNC, which has produced 10 draft picks since 2006, but he arrives following a season in which the Heels spectacularly underachieved, finishing 16-16 in the regular season and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time under coach Roy Williams.

To say the Tar Heels struggled to score in '09-'10 would be putting it gently: They ranked 92nd in adjusted offensive efficiency after finishing in the top 10 each of the previous six years. Carolina has two NBA prospects on the interior in Tyler Zeller and John Henson, but there's a massive point-production void on the perimeter, and Williams' best option is to make Barnes the No. 1 option. After watching him for three days at Paul's camp, it's clear Barnes has a more advanced and diverse offensive arsenal than anyone on the Tar Heels' current roster.

SI Recommends

Barnes is the rare wing player who has the combination of size, athleticism, and elegant shooting form from long-range. He's not Kevin Durant, who was longer and more of an athletic "freak" in his one-and-done year at Texas. But I believe Barnes could be the smoothest scoring forward to hit college hoops since Durant -- someone capable of creating a lot of his own offense and pushing Carolina back into the national rankings.

Kendall Marshall, the five-star freshman point guard who'll also be joining UNC's rotation next season, says that Barnes' size and skill set is reminiscent of Tracy McGrady's. "You could say Kobe, too, but Harrison is a much bigger guard, and like McGrady, you watch [Barnes] play and he's very effortless with all of his moves," Marshall said. "He does a lot off the jab series and one or two dribbles, and he's a great rebounder for a two or a three."

When I asked one of Barnes' soon-to-be rivals, Duke senior Nolan Smith, what he thought of the Carolina super-frosh, he made the same McGrady comparison, and said of Barnes, "He could be something special." Smith actually admitted -- without any hint of a grudge toward Barnes for choosing UNC over Duke last November -- that he was excited to see what Barnes would do as a freshman.

That's not to say the defending-champion Dukies won't attack Barnes with full force on the court. Smith and teammate Kyle Singler have no interest in ceding their status as the stars of the ACC. In 3-on-3 drills at Paul's camp, Singler used his senior-level strength on a few occasions to overpower Barnes around the basket. One of the NBA scouts in attendance told me he took notice; he was happy to see Singler, who's regarded as a first-rounder for 2011, successfully asserting himself against the kid who could potentially go No. 1 overall in that same draft.

Singler, who came to the ACC four years ago as a five-star wing out of Medford, Ore., said that if he had any advice to Barnes as highly touted rookie, it was to keep expanding his game as much as possible. "As a freshman, I realized pretty quickly," Singler said, "that things that worked in high school won't necessarily work at the next level."

In a mini-scrimmage the next day, I watched Barnes use one of his go-to moves from the prep summer circuit -- a jab, shot-fake, and right-handed drive -- against Brandon Triche, the starting point guard on a Syracuse team that was ranked No. 1 in the country for a short portion of last season. Barnes blew by Triche, who fell to the floor as he tried to pivot to catch up, and Barnes needed just two long strides to extend and gracefully lay the ball in the hoop. Not everything is going to work for Barnes as a Carolina rookie, but he's talented enough, it seems, that plenty of it will.