The Evolution Of Barber

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It all started back in the summer for NC State sophomore point guard Cat Barber, who was coming off a freshman season where he struggled at times with his playmaking and shooting.

A McDonald's All-American out of Hampton (NC) High School, Barber enrolled with massive expectations after finishing his prep career as the all-time leading scorer (2,097 points) in his district.

As with most freshmen, there were ups-and-downs for Barber, who averaged 8.5 points and totaled 126 assists. But, his shooting percentage was not where he and the coaching staff felt it should be. Barber shot just 40 percent from the floor, while knocking down only 26 percent of his attempts from three-point range.

With the transfer of Tyler Lewis meaning more playing time, Barber and NC State assistant coach Rob Moxley, who recruited him to Raleigh, went to work over the summer to improve his shooting.

"After the season we started working on his shooting, mid-range as well as the three-point line," Moxley said. "Catching and shooting was a primary focus because that was something he never had to do in college for several reasons. He was so fast and the game was so easy, no one could keep him in front of them. He wasn't scouted the level he was in college.

"This summer, we worked extremely hard, and he pushed himself to the extreme. He shot tons of catch-and-shoot shots with the gun, and I think that helped him develop his confidence. After a while of shooting over 500 jumpers, it can become second-nature."

"There is no substitute for the work Cat has put in," Moxley added. "He's always been very coachable, and that's a good thing. He listens. He may make some mistakes, but if you point them out, he'll work as he as he can to correct them."

Why was shooting off the catch being stressed? Well, because for probably the first time in his life Barber was going into a basketball season knowing that he wouldn't be asked to dominate the basketball. Playing alongside Trevor Lacey, Barber knew he would play on the wing at times as the duo would rotate bringing up the ball offensively.

"Cat probably had the ball 95% of the time in high school," Moxley stated. "He was on a great team that played hard, but he was always on the the ball. Playing with Trevor, I think it's helped him develop even more because he's had to improve on his catch-and-shoot jumper. He never used to spot up on the wing at all until now. Now, he doesn't have to do it a lot now, but in our offense our guards and wings are put in position to shoot off the catch, so he knew it was an area he needed to improve."

Barber's shot wasn't altered much, although he is now shooting it with more balance which comes from being prepared to shoot.

"That was the biggest thing for Cat, being prepared to shoot it," Moxley said. "If you watch now, his hands and feet are always ready. With his shot, he used to be a ball-watcher... he'd shoot it and watch his ball, but he's now keeping his eye on the rim the entire time and that's a big part.

"Then you have repetition... you have to shoot a ton of shots and train your muscles. He's put in enough work on the gun to where the right to make shots is earned. There's no short cut. All that work has allowed him to do it. Structurally, there wasn't a major change with his shot though, outside of not watching the ball."

Shooting wasn't the only aspect of Barber's game that he worked on in the Dail Center. He also had to improve as a playmaker. Moxley worked with him extensively on those key areas needed to be a success point guard in the ACC.

"We also really looked at his passing," Moxley said. "With his speed, he can constantly get in the lane, so we had to work on the different passes he could use in there... drop-offs for dunks, penetrate-and-pitch, things like that. You have a throwback to the post... there are so many passes that a point guard can make in there off the dribble.

"A perfect example you saw in the Louisville game. He drove into the paint and was caught up on the baseline where he made a great hammer pass, that's what we call it, to Ralston in the corner for a three-pointer. That's a great look for a point guard because with the rotations, that wing shooter is never guarded. I told him in the huddle that he would have never even looked to make that pass a year ago."

Tempo was also a focal point in workouts.

"The other thing he worked on was controlling the pace of the game," Moxley said. "You can't always go 100 miles an hour or 50. You have to change speeds when coming off ball screens or in transition, and those are areas he's put work in whether it's on the court or watching tape."

According to Moxley, Barber entered his sophomore season with plenty of confidence. In the first game he had 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists and hit 3-of-5 3-pointers. He followed that up with a 15-7-6 line in the win over Hofstra. However, he struggled from the floor over the next few games and his confidence started to fade.

"He started out making shots this year," said Moxley. "But when he struggled a little, he started hesitating again."

It got to the point where Barber basically stopped taking three-pointers. He only attempted three total three-pointers in the first nine games of conference play. The lack of confidence began to impact his overall game. He wasn't attacking the paint, he wasn't creating for others.

Then he had to battle some adversity.

"Cat went through the deal with the death of his close friend and also not starting," said Moxley. "I think some of that really made him think about what he needs to do and where he was. He wanted to take advantage of it."

Barber didn't start the games against Notre Dame and Clemson, but prior to the Georgia Tech matchup, Mark Gottfried chose to insert his point guard back into the starting lineup, and he had a simple message for Cat.

"Coach pulled me to the side and said, 'this is your time,'" said Barber. "Coach was just telling me to go out and be you, do you, and that's what I did."

He led the Pack to an overtime win over Georgia Tech, totaling 23 points and seven assists while hitting 9-of-12 shots and 4-of-5 from 3-point range.

Barber's been on a roll.

Over his last five contests he is averaging 18.6 points on 49 percent shooting from the field. He's hit 52 percent of his 3-point attempts and 79 percent of his free throws. He has also totaled 21 assists, 10 steals, and just five turnovers.

"I think my confidence keeps getting higher and higher," said Barber. "Coach keeps telling me to be Cat... do what I do best."

Perhaps his biggest performance came on the road at No. 9 Louisville. Barber scored 21 points and dished out four assists with just two turnovers against the Cardinals' full-court pressure. He led State to a huge road win that could prove critical to their NCAA Tournament hopes.

"Defenses had to come out closer when he started making threes at Georgia Tech," Moxley said. "He now has so much more driving room and court to work with and that's been a big part of it. He really has his confidence going.

"He's so fast. The Louisville game... he was really passing the ball well in that game. He could have had even more assists... he had several where he'd get in the lane and the receiver would get fouled and go to the line... that's like an assist to me. He probably had nine against Louisville."

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino agreed.

"I think he's great," Pitino said of Barber. "Defense, offense... he dominated the game by finding open people. He did a great job."

Moxley also pointed out the recent offensive adjustment made by Mark Gottfried has benefited both Barber and Lacey.

"Coach Gottfried has changed a little bit too," he said. "He's letting Trevor and Cat play off the ball screens so much more now, and both are really good at it. Depending on the game and how people guard us, that can be a real weapon.

"Cat understands the offense better, and he he understands what coach wants. A lot of times people don't realize that it takes time. The ACC, if you play in this league sometimes it takes time for a guy to really hit his groove and get going. Very few come in and are playing at the highest level right away."

NC State sits at 16-11 overall and 7-7 in ACC play with four league games remaining. Barber is now playing with plenty of confidence and that has been bad for the competition.

"I think Cat's confidence has grown a great deal," said Gottfried.

Moxley believes NC State's floor general can continue to improve.

"We're proud of how far Cat has come," he said. "But he can still take another step up, and he knows that."

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