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November 12, 2009For the better part of his life, there's very little question where Harrison Barnes wanted to go to college and play basketball: Iowa State. But on the day that he is announcing the school of his choice, is that still true? Here's the analysis from the only web site that has been on the Harrison Barnes story since his first scholarship offer - CycloneReport.com.
I first became aware of Barnes when he was in junior high as talk around Ames and Story County centered on whether or not this talented freshman-to-be would see playing time in the coming winter for a pretty talented and experienced Ames High team.
He did play, more and more as the season went along, but he wasn't really turned loose and giving the opportunity to do all he could do. At the risk of alienating some pretty good upperclassmen, Barnes' role was limited, and Ames High underachieved. It was the same in his sophomore season. The Little Cyclones were very good, but not great, and Barnes was allowed to do less than he could in deference to the veteran players "ahead" of him.
That all changed in Barnes' junior year. He had exploded nationally on the AAU scene the previous spring and summer so there was no longer any way that Ames could not make him the focal point of its attack. And his time had come anyway. The older players had moved on, several to smaller Division I basketball schools, and now Barnes - and a very talented supporting cast to boot - were ready for prime time.
And Ames ran roughshod over all of Class 4-A, putting together an unbeaten season where it was rarely and barely challenged all season long. By March of 2009 when AHS collected its state championship trophy in anti-climactic fashion, Harrison Barnes was a household name not only in Ames, not only in Iowa, but all across the country.
Barnes grew up immersed in Iowa State and Cyclone basketball. His dad Ronnie Harris was an ISU standout for Johnny Orr in the mid 80s, one of the key players in the reawakening of the program over 20 years ago. His mom Shirley is a long-time employee at Iowa State, one of the rare blue-chip parents who got their job at a university long before they were a blue-chip parent. Barnes has attended more Iowa State games than anyone can count, going back to childhood. He was born and raised a Cyclone.
Iowa State was the first school to offer Barnes a scholarship, making the obvious decision long before the rest of the country knew of his ability. The ISU coaches, I was told, were hopeful that he would stay a home grown secret. Yeah, not so much, because Barnes had other ideas. With a plan to do so in place, he catapulted into the national rankings and ultimately zoomed to the top with his spring and summer AAU play. He had a goal to become the nation's top prospect in the Class of 2010 and on almost every such listing today, there he is at no. 1.
ISU was on top of Barnes' list before he had any offers and it was on top of his list when he had just one offer. And probably when he had several, though none elite. But now, as his decision is at hand, is that still true? Or have the offers from a who's who list of college basketball heavyweights changed the score? It's quite possible they have, yet it's equally possible they have not.
I've written about many hundreds, probably thousands, of football and basketball prospects who have considered Iowa State through the years. An overwhelming majority of the time, if a prospect has grown up a true fan of a certain school and that school offers a scholarship...it gets its man. How often? Probably 70, 75 or 80 percent of time. But rarely has the competition been as stiff as what Iowa State faces in that situation with Barnes.
Will Barnes sign with an almost perennial Final Four contender - UNC, Duke, Kansas, UCLA - or will he sign with a school and instantly make it one - Oklahoma or Iowa State? Some analysts say that Barnes is determined to cast his lot with a team that can win a national title, while others say that he will make any team that just by being there. If the latter is true, then he can cut down nets with any of the six.
It's going to be a once-in-a-generation day at Ames High School. The nation's best basketball player probably won't hail from Ames ever again. Fred Hoiberg was great, but he wasn't Harrison Barnes great. Ironically, one of the top players nationally for 2013 - Peter Jok - is right down Interstate 35 at Des Moines Roosevelt High School. But to say Jok will be no. 1 in his class as a senior is to take a stab too wild at this point. Odds are it will be a long, long time before another nation's best player hails from central Iowa.
I can remember the first time I interviewed Barnes, after an Iowa State camp session one summer, following his freshman year. I approached the skinny teenager, introduced myself, and said I'd like to do a quick interview. His response, which couldn't have been more genuine, was: "You want to talk to me?" From those humble beginnings, we have arrived at today. Let's enjoy it.