Last night, the Illinois Fighting Illini defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Big Ten ACC Challenge, arguably college basketball’s premier non-conference event. This exciting evening featured Illini fans harassing UNC freshman phenom Harrison Barnes with chants of “overrated” down the stretch of Illinois’ convincing victory.
Harrison Barnes has been projected the #1 or #2 overall pick in next year’s NBA Draft by pretty much every mock draft across the board. However, his early career is off to a very rough start. After going 2-9 against Illinois, he’s shooting just 33.8 percent through the season’s first seven games.
In the post-game news conference I asked North Carolina coach Roy Williams what he thought about the defense Illinois played on Harrison Barnes. The result was even more exciting than the game itself as Williams went off on a rant defending his highly heralded freshman and critiquing sports media.
Williams brought up the criticism Barnes has received, focusing on ESPN in particular for building up and then tearing down the McDonald’s All-American.
“Harrison’s a freshman,” Williams said.
“And I get sick and I don’t mean to jump on anybody, but after the first game we play, and he had six turnovers or four turnovers or something like that, and ESPN does a special on how great he is. And then he struggled a little bit and ESPN did something to me that was very embarrassing to me today – put up that that a kid’s 1,175 in field-goal percentage in the country; that’s just ridiculous. And then somebody says, ‘Well, if he hadn’t have gone 0-for 12 against Minnesota, I’m sure he’d be in the top 1,000.’
Now I’m not getting on you, but that’s sick. If you’ve got enough balls to make somebody a big hero like that than admit you were wrong instead of start picking on a kid. Now I had to get that off my chest. But to answer your question.”
At this point I informed him that I didn’t work for ESPN, which drew laughter in the Assembly Hall press room.
“It’s silly, if you’re going to anoint the guy and three weeks later crucify him, that’s ridiculous. He didn’t ask to be voted first-team preseason All-America. Now I got off my high horse, I got off my soap box, if you could do me one big favor?”
“What’s that?” I said.
“Repeat the dang gum question” Williams said. And the Champaign media work room became bubblier, as more laughter ensued.
Harrison Barnes was rated the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation, and is the first ever preseason All-American first team selection to garner the honor without ever playing a single collegiate minute. So to say the expectations of Harrison Barnes are “sky-high,” is the understatement of the year.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an author and regular contributor to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter Football.com and Yardbarker. Banks has appeared on Comcast SportsNet and the History Channel, as well as Clear Channel, ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks)