UK Men's Basketball

John Clay: Cats hope Heels' freshman Barnes stays in his funk

Kentucky takes on freshman Harrison Barnes and North Carolina on Saturday. First, the Cats have a date with Boston University on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.
Kentucky takes on freshman Harrison Barnes and North Carolina on Saturday. First, the Cats have a date with Boston University on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Harrison Barnes is going to get hot.

It's going to happen. North Carolina's freshman fab-to-be is going to roar and soar, grab rebounds and throw down jams. And, oh yeah, he's going to start hitting his shots. One game, an opponent will be burned.

He's too good to stay cold.

"He's a pro," UK assistant coach John Robic said Thursday, previewing Saturday's annual tradition tangle between North Carolina and Kentucky. "He's a definite pro."

Thing is, the heralded Heel has not played anywhere close to a pro. Not yet, anyway. You could make the case that the 6-foot-8 Barnes, an expected Mr. Do-Everything out of Ames, Iowa, hasn't even resembled a good college basketball player yet, hitting just 33.8 percent of his shots. He's buried his reputation in bricks.

If you make that case, beware the wrath of Roy.

"Harrison's a freshman," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams began a post-game rant after the Heels lost at Illinois on Tuesday night. "And I don't mean to jump on anybody, but after the first game we play, and he had (several) turnovers, and ESPN does a special on how great he is.

"And then ESPN did something to me that was very embarrassing to me today — put up that a kid's 1,175 in field-goal percentage in the country; that's just ridiculous. And then somebody says, 'Well, if he hadn't have gone 0-for-12 against Minnesota, I'm sure he'd be in the top 1,000.' That's sick. ... It's silly, if you're going to anoint the guy and three weeks later crucify him, that's ridiculous. He didn't ask to be voted first-team pre-season All-America."

Then Williams asked the poor soul on the other end of the rant to do him a favor.

"Can you repeat the dad-gum question?" said Williams, as the press room erupted in laughter.

Here's the question(s): Is Barnes the real deal? And is too much pressure being placed on the real deal?

After all, as Williams notes, Barnes is the first true freshman ever to be named on the first unit of the AP's All-America team, even before he bounced a basketball inside the Dean Dome.

Then again, had we known what John Wall would end up doing last year as a true freshman, chances are the ex-UK point guard, and Raleigh, N.C., native, would have been voted first-team pre-season All-America, as well. Wall received plenty of pre-college career hype, and he seemed to handle everything just fine.

"John was so level-headed," said Robic when subbing for his boss, John Calipari.

"John Wall was the exception, not the rule," wrote Sean Keeler this week in the Des Moines Register.

So when can we expect Barnes to start his rule? He certainly has the gifts. He's a long, athletic player who can take it inside when needed, but he seems to prefer to float and stick the jumper.

"He's a very talented player," Robic said. "I've never seen him in person, just on tape, but at 6-7, 6-8, he's a jump shooter who can create his own shot. They look to him for big shots. They run some isolations for him."

If the Heels look to him too much, it's out of necessity. There isn't a whole lot else there. This is a team that lost 17 games last season and ended up in the NIT. Barnes was supposed to be the action hero who would save the day, hence the overly optimistic placings of North Carolina in pre-season top 10s.

Then Barnes went 0-for-12 in a loss to Minnesota in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-off in San Juan. He made just 11 of 35 shots in North Carolina's three tournament games. Upon returning home, he scored just eight points in the Heels' win over College of Charleston. Tuesday, against the Illini, Barnes hit just two of nine shots in another loss, as the Illinois' student section chanted, "Over-rated."

He may be now, but the consensus is he won't be forever. One of these games, Harrison Barnes is going to get hot, and you just hope it's not against you.

"Knock wood," Robic said. "Knock wood."

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