North Carolina Freshman three 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. (The preseason All-America team was instituted in 1986). And Fox Sports.com and CBS Sports.com named him the preseason player of the year. So to say the expectations of Barnes are “sky-high,” is the understatement of the year.
He’s quite possibly the most highly acclaimed college basketball rookie ever, as he was named to the Naismith Award Watch list, ACC Player of the year by this publication, National Freshman of the year by that publication, well you get the idea. NBA Mock Drafts, including ours, have had him as the #1 or #2 overall pick. So when things got off to a rough start for Barnes, the critics came out in full force.
“I really don’t mind all the personal scrutiny, it’s really more about winning and losing, I’m not a fan of losing, I really didn’t lose much in high school,” Barnes said after I caught up to him in Champaign, following a decisive defeat at the hands of the Illinois Fighting Illini.
By Paul M. Banks
And by not losing, we really mean NOT LOSING. In all four years, Barnes lost a total of just nine games. And that’s why I know Barnes is going to be alright; eventually. Just give him a chance.
We know his shooting percentages are in the 30s right now, but he’ll set it right. The Heels just beat a top ten team in Kentucky last Saturday, and as much as it pains me to say this: I agree with Dickie V.- don’t write the Heels off.
Look no further than former Tar Heel Phil Ford, the 1979 NBA Rookie of the Year and the #2 overall pick in the ’78 NBA Draft. Ford was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in May 1991, and he was Carolina’s leading scorer up until 2008. He also finished his career as the only player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to score over 2,000 points and register at least 600 assists (a record now shared with Travis Best of Georgia Tech and Greivis Vasquez of Maryland).
Ford got off to a very rough start in Chapel Hill. During the early part of his Tar Heel career, he even said publicly that perhaps the basketball program wasn’t for him. A reporter asked Barnes if he’s had a similar moment yet.
“I’ve loved every moment of my Carolina basketball experience, and my personal confidence hasn’t lacked at all,” Barnes responded.
Despite his struggles, he’s still the team’s second leading scorer. I asked him if living in the instant information age (you know, today’s world of Twitter, Facebook, Flipshare, YouTube etc.) makes the scrutiny more intense than ever.
“It’s just a matter of when we step out on that floor we need to execute our plays, our defensive schemes, to the best of our ability, without any lapses because that’s what allows us to fall behind in games,” he responded gracefully.
Earlier that night Roy Williams went off on a rant defending his highly heralded freshman.
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.
For video of the entire press conference go here
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.comFollow paulmbanks