CHICAGO -- It's a testament to his ability, and to the hype surrounding his arrival at North Carolina this year, that forward Harrison Barnes was perhaps the most exciting "name" at a camp featuring a dozen veteran college stars, some of whom went to the Final Four just a few months ago. No matter: Barnes is the likely 2011 No. 1 overall draft pick. He's the best player in his recruiting class, and he's going to one of the best basketball schools in the country to play in one of the most heated rivalries in the sport. Is he ready?
Skill-wise, you bet. Watching Barnes play against other top college forwards did nothing to change his reputation as an impending game-changer for the Tar Heels. He's everything the recruiting services, not to mention other hoops writers, have said: A lanky 6-foot-8 wing who can score from the perimeter, who can keep bigger defenders at bay in the post, who can penetrate and score in the lane, and whose natural feel for the game belies his age. Barnes might not have quite the impact of some 2009 recruits -- it's hard to be John Wall, after all -- but he's good enough to star immediately in the college game.
Barnes also seems mentally ready. He's a worker: Having just moved to Chapel Hill to begin summer school and daily workouts, and having just finished Chris Paul's elite camp last week, Barnes decided to use a break from school to travel to Chicago for yet another workout. After the camp broke for the night, Barnes took the few minutes between his bus' arrival and this annoying reporter's questions to take a few extra shots. Between drills, Barnes worked on his NBA range. And when said annoying reporter asked the notoriously business-minded Barnes to describe the value of such a camp, he didn't disappoint.
"More than anything, I'm here to pick the minds of great players like Paul Pierce and Kevin Durant," Barnes said. "They've done this before, and gone through the process, and they have a lot to teach."
What lessons could he learn? Barnes was still waiting to work closely with Durant, but he'd already built a relationship with Pierce.
"Paul and I are good friends," Barnes said. "It's a lot of little things -- how to use your body, how to play at this level. I'm really excited about the opportunity."
Barnes also referred to incoming Duke recruit Kyrie Irving -- with whom Barnes will share the most heated rivalry in college hoops next season -- as a "great friend," asserting that he was "very aware" of the basketball culture he was stepping into but that he didn't expect the rivalry to affect the duo's friendship.
That UNC-Duke fervor has a way of following players everywhere. Even in Chicago, on his way out of the gym, Barnes was confronted by a Duke fan who asked why Barnes had turned the Dukies down. "We worked hard for you, man! What happened?" Barnes rolled his eyes as if to say, "Really? This again?" And then he smiled and walked out of the gym.
The entire effect is startling. Barnes has at times been compared to Kevin Durant; it was probably fitting, if a little unfair, that college hoops' best wing player of the past decade was now the man gracing his heir apparent's camp uniform. But off the court, Barnes reminds one more of LeBron James. The 18-year-old is a product of modern basketball world: part five-star recruit, part aspiring businessman (or perhaps business, man) and part network-happy politician.
If UNC fans weren't already slobbering, they should be. Harrison Barnes is all business, and that bodes very well for his tenure in Chapel Hill, however short that tenure may be.