ACC Basketball: UNC’s Barnes isn’t letting criticism get to him
CHAPEL HILLó Harrison Barnes never proclaimed himself to be the best player in college basketball or even a guaranteed one-and-done guy making a brief stop at North Carolina on the way to the NBA.
Instead, the freshman touted as the savior for a storied program coming off a stumble describes himself humbly: as a still-developing player working diligently to improve. Itís why he doesnít worry about criticism of the slower-than-expected start to his college career nor the scrutiny that comes with every bounce of the ball.
ěIt doesnít bother me at all because up until this part of my career, Iíve never had any adversity in basketball,î Barnes said in an interview with The Associated Press. ěMy career has just been straight up. I always played, I always got better. … So itís just been a good test for me to grow as a player and grow as a person. And I feel like had I not had this adversity, I probably wouldnít become later the player I will.î
Barnesí arrival here was one of the biggest stories entering the season and still is ó just not the way most expected. He signed with North Carolina over Duke, Kansas, Oklahoma, UCLA and Iowa State to cap one of the most publicized recruiting battles in years. And from his Hall of Fame coach to his new teammates, no one tried to temper expectations for a player who became the first freshman named preseason AP All-American since voting began before the 1986-87 season.
But the 6-foot-8 forward widely regarded as the nationís top recruit out of Ames, Iowa, hasnít been an unstoppable force. Rather, heís been solid but unspectacular with flashes of brilliance to tantalize fans heading into todayís rivalry game against North Carolina State.
ěI think heís done a very good job,î N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe said. ěI think itís been unfair, the pressure and the expectations thatís been put upon him, which seems to be the trend. With our kids, the same thing: so much pressure put on these guys that if they donít have 20 points or something, they feel that theyíre failures.î
Barnes is second on the Tar Heels (14-5, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) with 11.8 points per game, third in rebounding (5.2) and leads the team in minutes (27.2).
Heís also struggled with his shot ó 37 percent overall and 32 percent from 3-point range ó while committing a team-high 43 turnovers. He has shot 50 percent or better just four times, including an 0-for-12 day in a loss to Minnesota in his third game. Heís even heard chants of ěOverrated!î from fans in a few road games.
Yet heís also shown a knack for coming up with big late-game shots, which has helped the Tar Heels climb back near the top of the ACC standings after a miserable 17-loss season.
ěAt the end of the day, you have to win games,î Barnes said. ěThatís what Iím here for.î
Barnes handles everything with the same matter-of-fact attitude and a maturity beyond his 18 years. He acknowledges having a target on his back and shrugs off criticism by saying media members are ějust doing their job.î
ěThereís obviously a lot of basketball left in my career regardless of this year,î he said. ěRegardless of how this season happens, the world is not going to end. The sun will come out and life will go on. So itís one of those things you just have to look at and not just ask ëWoe is meí or wish this wasnít happening, but to understand why itís happening, to learn from it and get better as a player.î
His biggest growth has come late in games. He hit the tying 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left in the 78-76 loss to Texas in December, had three key baskets in the final 31/2 minutes as the Tar Heels rallied from 16 down to beat Virginia Tech and hit the go-ahead 3 with about 4:58 left in last weekís win against Clemson.
Then, on Wednesday night, Barnes hit a tough stepback jumper to tie Miami with about a minute left followed by the go-ahead 3 to beat the shot clock with 6.6 seconds left in the 74-71 victory.
Before those two shots, Barnes was just 2 of 9 from the field.
ěI think with each and every game, heís understanding more about whatís a good shot, whatís a bad shot, what kind of shot that he should take that he can make,î UNC coach Roy Williams said. ěAnd his progression of being tough enough ó or willing enough ó to take a last shot and make it is something thatís pretty impressive.î
His approach to the game impresses teammates, too.
ěEverything he puts his mind to, he gets better,î sophomore Dexter Strickland said. ěAnd I respect that.î