Harrison Barnes B.C. Before Carolina


As many of you know I spent much of last year working on a political campaign in the state of Iowa. Thirteen hour work days left very little leisure time, and most of my travelling was confined to my candidate’s sparsely populated district in the northeast corner. However, two days after the Election, I had the opportunity to explore a little more of the Hawkeye state as I traveled west to Des Moines to tie up loose ends. It was my first “leisurely drive” through Iowa in months, so I decided to take a couple of detours. Ames High School in Ames, IA was one of those detours. Being the blue bleeding Tar Heel born and bred that I am, I could not pass on the opportunity to stop in at Harrison Barnes’ old stomping ground.

Ames, IA is also the home of Iowa State University and located about 30 miles north of Des Moines, Iowa’s capital and largest city. The presence of the state’s 2nd largest university and its proximity to Des Moines give Ames a unique identity that is part suburb/part college town. In 2010, CNNMoney.com placed Ames at Number 9 on its list of “Best Places to Live”. Along with its 60,000 residents, Ames is also the home of Iowa’s DOT and the USDA National Animal Disease Center. Needless to say, much of what goes on in Ames and at Iowa State University helps to feed America and the rest of the world.

I stopped in at HB’s alma mater around noon hoping to speak with those who knew him “B.C.” or Before Carolina. I explained to the lady at the front desk that I was a freelance writer for a UNC fan site and wanted to take a few pictures of the basketball court and maybe some of Barnes’ trophies. She was very friendly, and when hearing I was associated with UNC said, “Oh, we like them.”

I was shown to the upper floor of the gymnasium where the trophy case was located. The case was filled with various team awards and the most recent individual accomplishments of Barnes and his fellow Ames High School teammate Doug McDermott who still plays for Creighton. To show you how much Iowa State is ingrained into the Ames communtiy, Ames High’s sports teams are called, the “Little Cyclones.” Though, I’m sure Ames basketball foes saw nothing “little” about Barnes and McDermott when they took the floor.

I didn’t have much time to hang around, but I left my contact information with the front desk in case anyone would be willing to grant me an interview. Barnes’ former guidance counselors, Julie Bryant, was kind enough to answer a few questions via email. Ms. Bryant was one of three Ames High staffers who occasionally attended games in Chapel Hill. Their attendance was always a welcome sight for Tar Heel fans as Barnes almost always scored over 20 points in the presence of his former mentors. I would like to thank Ms. Bryant and the rest of the staff at Ames High School for allowing me to visit. It is representative of the hospitality I have seen throughout Iowa in the nearly six months I have been living here.

1) You watched Harrison play basketball in Chapel Hill several times. What was your favorite part about visiting Chapel Hill and the Dean Smith Center?

Every trip was special in its own way. You might think after visiting so many times that it would get old but it never did. It was so much fun meeting the other players and their families, the coaching staff, the media, and just the other fans who attended the games. Everyone made us feel so welcome. Meeting Lennie Rosenbluth and Bill Chamberlain was especially sweet. We sat in front of them for several games and it was fascinating hearing Bill’s commentary during the games. Watching the game through his “eyes” made the game come alive even more. He pointed out the little things that the average fan probably would miss. We hope to someday go back to the Dean Dome and see Harrison’s jersey in the rafters.Almost every time we visited we went to the basketball museum, and every time we’d all tear up. Seeing the history of UNC basketball over the years is profoundly moving. I know that probably sounds cheesy but it really got to us every time. The attention to detail in the museum itself was impressive. I have always been a huge college basketball fan so reliving those memories from those moments back when Dean Smith was still coaching, and seeing the memorabilia from those games, is absolutely surreal. There were so many shining moments that I remember watching on television and here I was standing in the presence of that. 

Many people do not believe me when they hear me say that I have been a UNC basketball fan for many years. Long before UNC was on Harrison’s radar. In fact, I have a tiny basketball jersey that both of my sons wore until it was too small. When Coach Williams visited Ames High School he graciously signed it for me, and once Harrison commiitted to UNC, he signed it too. When people ask me how a girl from Iowa becomes a UNC basketball fan, I tell them that I have a lot of respect for organizations and individuals who do things the right way, and Coach Dean Smith always struck me as a class act who did just that. So basically he is responsible for me becoming a UNC hoops fan back in the day. 

2) What was your advice to Harrison or any other student athlete for that matter as far as time management goes, and did he have to deal with envious peers or was he generally well-liked?

Harrison knew how to manage his time from early on as he had been honing his basketball skills from an early age, and he pursued other interests as well,  so he was already a veteran of time management.   And of course he had support along the way from his teachers. I know of a few of his teachers that met with him outside the school day when he had missed class because he was out of town. He knew how to use his resources and he wasn’t afraid to ask for help when he needed it.

Time management is critical whether you are a student-athlete or just a student so my advice would be to make a schedule, with scheduled breaks, and stick to it. Once you start getting behind in your work, the pressure starts to build so it’s best to keep going, do a little bit at a time, but always keep at it. If you keep putting off work you get to a point where you have to eat the elephant in one bite and that gets overwhelming so it’s best to just keep working little by little. To me, that is just good advice for anyone.

Harrison was genuinely well liked by his peers, and if others were intimidated by him, I don’t believe it was necessarily because of anything he did or didn’t do. When you saw him walking down the halls of Ames High he was just like any other student, except much taller! He was very much respected by his peers and his teachers, not only because of his work ethic on the basketball court, but because of his work ethic in the classroom and his leadership during “Word on Wednesdays” a bible study group he started on Wednesday mornings. He never waivered in his dedication and commitment to the things he was involved in. 

3) There was a great deal of pressure for Harrison to be National Player of the Year even before he played one, single college basketball game. Do you think these were expectations were fair or how would you advise any student dealing with the pressures of high profile athletics on the high school or college level?

Of course I don’t think those expectations were fair, but it was what it was. I think perhaps the individuals who were talking about National Player of the Year before he’d played one game forgot that there is no “I” in team and those expectations should have been a bit more measured. I have no doubt that he gave his all in every single game he played for UNC, and in my opinion, that is enough. There is always pressure in life, but when performing in the white-hot spotlight, ones successes and failures are magnified to the nth degree, and just because he didn’t measure up to some peoples expectations, doesn’t mean he didn’t have a successful college basketball career. It is always important to keep things in perspective, whether in basketball or in life. There will always be naysayers in life that you have to live with, but being able to live with yourself and knowing you did your best, and that you weren’t outworked by anyone, is what really matters. 

4) While UNC lost Harrison to the NBA, they gained another Iowan in freshman Marcus Paige from Marion. The state of Iowa is so entrenched in the world of high school football and wrestling, where does basketball fit in? Do you foresee it growing in popularity and if so, do you think Iowa can become a breeding ground for college basketball superstars?

I think in some respects Iowa is already a breeding ground for basketball superstars. Doug McDermott is making quite a name for himself at Creighton. (He played with Harrison here at AHS and was on both state championship teams.) Coach Williams snagged Nick Collison, Kirk Heinrich, Raef Lafrentz, Harrison Barnes and most recently Marcus Paige and in the words of one of our local sportscasters, “At least Coach Williams doesn’t take our women!”  Basketball in Iowa has a big following and a loyal fan base like wrestling and football so I believe it fits right in there. Especially with “The Mayor” Fred Hoiberg calling the shots at Iowa State now. As an Ames High Alum and former Iowa State Cyclone I think the fan base will continue to expand during his tenure.

>5) Other than in his unique athletic abilities, how else did Harrison Barnes stand out among his peers?
I think I already addressed this but his work ethic and dedication to whatever he is working on at the time is unmatched. He will not be outworked by anyone. He always remained humble yet stayed hungry. That was something Coach Downs always worked towards with the team at Ames High. Most people only know him as a basketball player but the people who interacted with him on a daily basis knew there was so much more to him than that. 

6) Have you already been to a Golden State Warriors game or do you have plans to?
The three of us, Jane Jurgensen, Sue Lawler and myself, attended his first game in Minneapolis, along with a bunch of other Iowans. That was a lot of fun, but also very strange to see him playing in a jersey that didn’t have North Carolina on it. It has taken some getting used to. I had planned on going with Jane and Sue to California back in December but was unable to because my mom who was having some health issues at the time. We are currently looking at the calendar to see where our next trip will take us. We have many more choices now since the NBA plays all over the place and we look forward to creating more memories while following Harrison’s career.