Part II: Gym Rat
AMES, Iowa --- It's 3:05 p.m. and Harrison Barnes is standing alone in front of Ames High as he waits for his ride to an out-of-the-way gym that he favors for workouts. With no posse surrounding him, he doesn't look to be getting the "superstar" treatment that one might expect a standout athlete to receive - and that's fine by him.
The truth is, he's juiced about getting into the gym and working. Because of the in-home and official visits that come along with the recruiting process, Barnes doesn't feel like he's been able to focus enough on his individual work. The chance to get back to work without any distractions is appealing to him, to say the least.
"To me, getting an individual workout in is even more important than playing," he says. "When I'm on the floor and I'm playing, if something doesn't feel right it's usually a reflection of my workout. If I've had a good workout week, then when I start playing I seem to do better. That's where it all starts for me."
When he arrives at the gym, Barnes finds that it's not as empty as he was expecting. Already there is his man, Lefty, a local workout guy who has helped him with his game for years. Lefty is just finishing up putting a sophomore girl from a neighboring town through an individual workout.
After a few minutes of small talk, the genuinely star struck girl and her mother ask if Barnes will be working out and if they can watch for a bit. Happy to oblige, Lefty puts his old student through a series of jump shooting drills and the local star delights his crowd of two by draining 37 of the 50 jumpers he takes between 15 and 22 feet.
Once the quick display is over, Lefty, the girl and her mother all prepare to head out. But first, the giggling girl's mother asks if her daughter can get a picture with Barnes. When he says ‘Yes,' the girl is overcome with excitement and explains about how she can't wait to put the picture on Facebook because nobody would believe that she'd really met the budding local legend.
"I know that if I get better every day the rest will take care of itself."
Alone again, Barnes disappears into a small room for a minute and returns as the gym's speakers are filled with the sounds of thumping rap. Today's selection is a Lil' Wayne mixtape and it's fitting that the track "Kobe Bryant" is playing. You see Bryant is Barnes' favorite player and it's tough not to see similarities in their personality, drive and commitment to perfecting their skills.
"I like working out alone - it just gives me the serenity of being by myself in a place that I love," he says, as the ball he's dribbling echoes through the gym. "For the most part I like to work out with the music. But the days that I really want to get some things done, I prefer silence."
Given that Barnes is the top prospect in the class of 2010, it's not surprising that his game looks pretty complete. In a private setting, it's easy to see that his jumper is a weapon from all over, his post game is expanding and that he's much more explosive athletically than he's been given credit for.
That doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement.
"I'm really trying to refine my fundamentals right now. I'm trying to make sure my ball handling is tight. I've really been focusing on that the last two years. My lateral quickness, I'm making sure that it's there and I'm focusing on being in shape and able to play both ends of the floor."
Not only hard working, Barnes is very mature and it shows in the way that he's able to look down the road. Each step he takes is carefully calculated to ready him for the next step he'll have to take in his basketball career.
"If I get myself into college shape before my high school season then that will carry over," he says. "Then when I get in college, hopefully I can get into professional shape.
"Hopefully it will pay dividends at the end of this season. Hopefully we'll win the state tournament. Then, the work I'm putting in will hopefully pay dividends when I get to college by being able to play in a Final Four. After that, hopefully I'll be able to continue on into the NBA."
Nearly two hours pass and Barnes is finally finished with his individual workout. It's 5:45 and the high school senior is tired and hungry after a day that began exactly 12 hours ago. Facing a night of homework after eating, he's also only 12 hours away from doing it all again.
You know what? He wouldn't have it any other way.
"I think a lot of people get caught up in the glitz and the glamour of the game," Barnes says, just before he exits the gym to head home. "I just want to be one of those players who is all about getting better. I know that if I get better every day, the rest will take care of itself. So, why not be in here working to be the best?"