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Tar Heels hope they've cloned Kobe
Harrison Barnes wasn’t necessarily slated to be The Savior when he Skyped Roy Williams last November to officially let North Carolina know he was opting for the Tar Heels over rival Duke.
But after a dismal season in Chapel Hill in which North Carolina tumbled to mediocrity and the Blue Devils cut down the nets in April, that’s exactly what he’s become.
The Man who will make certain that North Carolina’s tumble lasts just one season. The Man that will elevate the Tar Heels back to Final Four contenders.
Barnes, after spending a few days working on his perimeter skills at Chris Paul’s Camp down in Winston-Salem, finally stepped foot on campus earlier this week.
Which also means that The Savior won’t be doing any interviews until his first official college basketball game (those are the North Carolina rules).
Barnes is a heck of a player, arguably the most talented incoming freshman in the entire country.
But he alone can’t rectify all the issues in Chapel Hill.
Barnes does solve perhaps the most glaring need – a wing that can create his own shot and also someone who is able to make a play with the game on the line.
It’s likely he can help with filling more than one of the Tar Heels weaknesses: Barnes can also make shots from the perimeter and is capable, even as a freshman, of quickly becoming the team’s leader.
However, the Tar Heels won’t suddenly return to dominance solely due to the arrival of the 6-foot-8, 212-pound Iowa native.
They will also need either for Larry Drew II to make a significant leap in the offseason or for freshman floor leader Kendall Marshall to be able to make an immediate impact.
They will also need the third member of the freshman class, Reggie Bullock, to give the Tar Heels another bonafide perimeter shooter – something that was clearly missing last year.
But Barnes is the key.
He’s not Kobe Bryant, but that’s who he aspires to be – and sometimes if you close your eyes and listen, you think it just might be the Lakers star.
Barnes already has that persona. He’s highly intelligent, but also guarded. He chooses his words carefully and just has an aura surrounding him.
He’s different – and it’s not just the near 4.0-GPA or the fact that he plays the saxophone.
Barnes barely watched the national championship game in which a Duke program that finished as the runner-ups to North Carolina in his recruiting battle edged out Butler.
"Briefly,” Barnes said. "I saw maybe two minutes in the first half and a few minutes in the second half.”
"It was hard to watch,” he added.
What would be more difficult to view is if the Tar Heels don’t make a quantum leap from last season’s 20-17 record, a season in which they lost to Dayton in the NIT title game.
"Last year it was a very young team that needed experience,” Barnes said. "I wasn’t part of the team so I don’t really know what went on. I know this year we’ll have a lot of fun.”
"And I think we’ll be chasing a national championship,” he added.
That will be largely up to Barnes – who has been working on becoming more versatile since his senior campaign at Ames High concluded.
"I’ve changed my body and am hoping to be able to play more than one position,” Barnes said.
For a while, following the Wear twins' decision to transfer, it looked as though Barnes would be forced into seeing extensive time at power forward. That is, until North Carolina was able to land Alabama transfer Justin Knox, a big, strong frontline guy with one remaining year of eligibility.
"I was smiling when I heard we got him,” Barnes admitted. "But if I needed to (play power forward), I would.”
There were no nerves about arriving in Chapel Hill this past week; just anticipation.
The decision he’s agonizing over most is whether to join a fraternity, but he claims that won’t come until after his freshman year.
"I want to get acclimated this year,” Barnes said.
But on the court, Barnes will be expected to adapt quickly. For he is – unfairly or not – being hailed as The Savior in Chapel Hill.
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