TEMPE, Ariz. — In team roping, the lead roper is known as the header, and his job is to lasso a steer around the neck and turn it to the left. The other roper on the two-man team, the heeler, then throws his loop around the steer’s back legs as it bucks in protest. The heeler’s job requires a clear eye, a steady hand and impeccable timing.
Arizona State guard Bo Barnes has nicely transferred that skill set from rodeoing to basketball.
Barnes has emerged as the Sun Devils’ top guard off the bench after a breakout 13-point game at the University of Arizona three weeks ago, and he again will assume that role when the Sun Devils (16-6, 5-4) open a home series against the Oregon schools. First up is surprising Oregon State (13-8, 5-4) on Thursday at Wells Fargo.
"Bo has really found his rhythm. He has hit his stride," ASU coach Herb Sendek said.
Barnes, a 6-foot-4 junior, has averaged 8.4 points a game in the last five games while making nine 3-pointers and shooting 56.5 percent from the field in a littler more than 18 minutes a game. His emergence has given the Sun Devils another scoring option and has kept the offense from stagnating while the starters are getting a break.
"That was a sore spot for us, but Bo and Jon (Gilling) in particular off the bench are giving us some extra points," Sendek said.
There was little inkling in November that it would turn out this way, but it is not how you start but how you finish, right?
Barnes is a study in perseverance. He was a non-scholarship redshirt after transferring home from the University of Hawaii in 2011-12, and he seldom saw the floor after gaining his eligibility last season.
But propelled by the work ethic instilled by his father, Jake, a seven-time world team roping champion and a member of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, Barnes never let it get him down. How tough is Jake? He lost the top of his thumb in a roping accident, but the joint was sewn into his side in to permit new tissue to grow before it was reattached with a graft from his leg. Barnes has heard stories of his father getting up at 4 a.m. to practice his team-roping skills.
"He said you have to keep working at it. If he could do it, I couldn’t quit on something," Barnes said.
Barnes learned rodeoing and perseverance from his father, but that’s not all. The two shot baskets together and played one-on-one, and Barnes said Jake taught him how to shoot. Barnes finally decided to concentrate on basketball at about 15, and colleges later took notice after his game developes at Scottsdale Christian and Westwind Prep.
Barnes was a top reserve his one season at Hawaii, averaging 6.9 points a game and making 57 3-pointers. He was recruited by the likes of Iowa State, LaSalle and Duquesne before going to Hawaii, but he opted to transfer to ASU to be nearer to family and friends. Jake still rides the rodeo circuit, although his schedule is not quite as heavy as it was in the past, and the family still has five acres and some livestock in north Scottsdale.
While it was nice being home, the transition to bit player was a little stressful, especially last season, when Barnes played only 78 minutes and scored 13 points.
"I would say there were some doubts," Barnes said. "I was playing a lot as a freshman over there and had some success. Coming here and not playing a lot was tough. The hardest part was staying with it and keep grinding."
Practices became Barnes’ games, and it showed. Although an injury to Jermaine Marshall created available minutes that Barnes used to his advantage in the Arizona game, the coaches already had noticed his progress.
"Bo was moving forward rapidly in our thinking even before Jermaine’s injury because of his daily approach, his energy and his hustle," Sendek said. "He just kept playing better and better and harder and harder. He went from being on our scout team to, ‘Wait a second, this guys deserves to play.’
"He’s one of our toughest players. He has a great motor. Plays hard on both ends of the floor. Maybe the best word is comfort level. He’s older now. He’s had a good vantage point to see what needs to be done. He’s had some success, and that just triggered the next good thing, and now he has some momentum."
Barnes has at least one 3-pointer in each of the last five games, and his two 3s off Jahii Carson feeds helped ASU to a 10-point in the first half of an 89-78 overtime victory over California on Wednesday, three days before Cal gave No. 1 Arizona its first defeat of the season.
Barnes has played at least 17 minutes in four of the last five games.
"It’s definitely nice to be able to play long enough to get into the rhythm of the game. Everything calms down a little bit," he said.