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Barnes' slow start is puzzling
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.
No one has the answer.
What’s wrong with Harrison Barnes?
Maybe it’s the weight of the world on his shoulders – having the pressure of bringing the North Carolina program back to, at the very least, respectability following a dismal season in which the Tar Heels wound up NIT-bound.
Maybe it’s the fact that he’s just not quite as dominant as most of us who have seen him countless times expected him to be coming out of Ames High (Iowa) as the top-ranked player in America.
Maybe it’s that he doesn’t have a big-time point guard or a leader alongside to make his transition easier.
Or maybe it’s just going to take time.
"It’s only been seven games,” Barnes said on Friday in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s home game against No. 10 Kentucky.
But it’s been seven games – or at least six – that Barnes hasn’t taken on the appearance of The Savior, which is what many anticipated his role would become once he arrived in Chapel Hill.
Barnes, who was tabbed the first freshman AP preseason All-American ever, is frustrated his shot isn’t falling (he’s shooting just 34 percent from the field) and that he’s not getting easy baskets via the charity stripe, putbacks and in transition.
But he’s more upset that the Tar Heels have already lost three games this season.
"I judge myself on wins and losses,” Barnes said. "I could have done more offensively – and defensively as well.”
Remember, this is a kid who didn’t lose a single game in his final two seasons at Ames High.
"The first time (loss) I was shocked. It was just surreal,” Barnes admitted. "I didn’t know what was going on.”
What’s happened is that Barnes’ struggles have mirrored those of the Tar Heels.
After an auspicious debut against Hofstra in which he scored 19 points in 25 minutes, Barnes missed all 12 of his shots from the field in a loss to Minnesota down in Puerto Rico.
The following game, Barnes was 4-of-12 for 11 points in a loss to Vanderbilt and he struggled in the last game – a loss at Illinois – going 2-of-9 from the field and managing just eight points.
It hasn’t exactly been how Barnes or anyone envisioned the start of his college career.
"There are sleepless nights,” he said.
And there have been plenty of conversations with his mother, Shirley, and his younger sister. There’s even been advice rolling in from fellow coaches.
"I know he’ll be fine,” Shirley Barnes said prior to the Illinois game. "He’s doing all the right things.”
Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel, who was among the finalists when Barnes ultimately chose North Carolina over Duke, even sent Barnes a text recently.
"To be a star you must follow your own path and shine your own light," Capel wrote to Barnes. "And NEVER EVER worry about darkness! THAT's when a star shines BRIGHTEST."
Barnes responded with a phone call, asking Capel if he had any other of those quotes.
It’s clear that the 6-foot-8, 210-pound forward is searching for answers – and he’s not alone.
Tar Heels coach Roy Williams can’t quite put his finger on why Barnes is struggling out of the gates, either, other than to say the competition from the high school to the college level can be overwhelming.
But that guy down the road, Duke freshman Kyrie Irving, is doing just fine.
So is the frosh coming into the Dean Dome on Saturday – Kentucky’s Terrence Jones.
"My situation is so much different,” Barnes said. "This team I came to didn’t go to the NCAA tournament last year and it’s not a veteran team. We’re all going through it as freshmen in a way.”
But the other guys on the team don’t have that same pressure.
"You’ve got to take the good with the bad,” Barnes said.
Barnes knows that the shots will start to fall soon and he’s confident that the adversity he’s facing – the first since he was nearly cut from his high school team as a freshman – will ultimately benefit him down the road.
"Life’s not always going to be easy,” Barnes said.
But no one figured it would be this difficult for him in Chapel Hill.
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