Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Barry proved he's not a geek

ORLANDO – When Chris Chiozza first heard that Canyon Barry was coming to Florida as a graduate transfer, bringing with him a 4.0 GPA and a major in nuclear engineering, the first word that came to his mind was “geek.”

Chiozza admits he expected someone who kept to himself, couldn’t keep his nose out of books and would have a hard time fitting in with his new Gator teammates. When he looks back to that moment, Chiozza can only shake his head and admit how wrong he was.

“All I could think of was, man, we don’t have anyone on the team that smart,” Chiozza said Wednesday afternoon as the Gators (24-8) waited their turn to practice on the Amway Arena court in preparation for their first round NCAA East Regional game with East Tennessee State (27-7) Thursday at 3:10 p.m. “I thought geek. I admit it. I thought maybe he would only want to be in his room studying all the time and wouldn’t want to talk to everybody but man, I was wrong. He just fit in from the start. He is the perfect fit for our team.”

Fitting in is all Barry ever wanted to do. He came to Florida off a fourth-year junior season at Charleston in which he averaged nearly 20 points a game. As teammates found out in a hurry, he didn’t come to UF expecting an instant spot in the starting lineup or the promise of so many shots per game.

“I was just fortunate to come here to play for a great coach and great teammates who welcomed me with open arms,” Barry said. “I wanted to be part of something special so I just wanted to do whatever they needed me to do to help the Gators have a great season.”

Helping the Gators meant coming off the bench instead of starting. It’s a role he embraced and never complained about. He was so effective that he earned Southeastern Conference Sixth Man of the Year honors while averaging 12.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game while shooting 87.8% from the foul line underhanded, just like his dad, Hall of Famer Rick Barry, one of the great free throw shooters in history.

While he earned notoriety for the underhanded free throws – “I tried it and it’s not for me but he’s automatic,” Chiozza said – so many of the other things he did for the Gators went unnoticed perhaps to the casual fan but not by teammates.

“Canyon can do it all,” Kasey Hill said. “He’s one of those guys that whatever you need, he’ll do it. That’s one of the things we all noticed about him. He just wants to do whatever we need to win. He doesn’t care if he’s the leading scorer or doesn’t score at all long as he helps us win the game. He’s happier for his teammates than he is for himself, I think.”

When he transferred in from Charleston, everybody expected Canyon to be a scorer like his dad and there is no question he can score. Just ask Georgia (27) or Auburn (30). But there is much more to his game than just putting the ball in the basket. Over the course of a 32-game season, Barry has shown toughness nobody expected. He won’t back down from a defensive challenge whether it’s on the perimeter or against a taller inside opponent. He fights for tough rebounds, gets his hands into passing lanes to cause deflections and as he showed against Arkansas, he’s got good hops. He made the defensive play of the game late against Arkansas when he went up high to roof 6-9 Dustin Thomas, a blocked shot that sparked a fast break that snuffed out a late rally by the Razorbacks.

All those things are clearly visible. What people don’t see are the numerous off the court contributions, both in the locker room and off campus away from basketball.

Teammates notice and appreciate.

“On the court you know he will always do the right thing,” Chiozza said. “Off the court, you know he will always do the right thing. You can ask him for help and he will stop whatever he’s doing and go out of his way if you need it to help you. I mean, he would go to Krispy Kreme and buy doughnuts for fans who camped out for tickets. That’s a special guy.”

Hill added, “You know, away from basketball he studies a lot but whenever we want to do something as a team, he never turns us down. He never tells us he’s got something else to do. He’s just happy to be with us and we’re happy he’s there with us.”

KeVaughn Allen didn’t want to pre-judge when he heard Barry was going to transfer to UF but he did think anyone smart enough to make straight A’s and get into grad school in nuclear engineering probably had better things to do than hang around with teammates.

He was wrong.

“He’s a very cool guy to hang around with,” Allen said. “He just fits in with us and we fit in with him. We’ve all found out that if you got something you want to talk about or if you need some advice about something, you can go to him and he’ll listen to you. He’s always got time for a teammate.”

The interaction with teammates is what Barry says has made this season at Florida one he will never forget.

“They embraced me and that meant a lot to me,” Barry said. “I try not to think about the fact that if we lose a game my college basketball career is over. I just don’t want to think about that. What I want to think about is how much of a blessing it’s been to be here at Florida.

“I think the Rowdy Reptiles are the best student section in the country so I want to give them a shout out and all the people and fans in Gainesville and around the state … they’ve been great, too. The bonds you make with your teammates stay with you for a lifetime. They’ve become family to me. If you want to know what I will miss most about playing college basketball, that’s it.”

GATOR NOTES: On the interview podium Thursday, Kasey Hill was asked what he remembers the most about his first NCAA Tournament game in 2014. “I remember we were losing,” Hill said. “We were the Number 1 overall seed and Coach D (Billy Donovan) was pretty mad at us but we got it together at halftime and we came out and won the game” … Devin Robinson said the Gators held a team meeting similar to the one they held after losing consecutive games to South Carolina and Vanderbilt back in January. After that team meeting the Gators went on a 9-game winning streak. “We had a meeting as a team and the staff to basically get everything out, put everything on the table like we have when we lost two games in a row and just knew we had to reconnect as a team and get to the root of what was going on and figure out that if we’re going to keep playing like this we’re going to end our season short” … The key for winning Thursday against East Tennessee? Mike White says, “Defensively we can’t make the four or five mistakes we made last week (against Vanderbilt), which is better than making 20, but we’re not good enough. We’re not good enough to beat ETSU by making another four or five that lead to big baskets for these guys.”

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