"It was just a big growth period for me," Barnes said this week. "Not only in terms of winning two state basketball championships and winning two MVPs at the McDonald's and Jordan All-Star games but also developing close relationships with friends, making my college decision and being recruited. Those are all big experiences in my life."
With his next big experience on the horizon, Barnes said he's been busy closing the door on the most recent chapter of his life. Over the last month, Barnes has said his goodbyes to friends, family, classmates and teachers, with his career at Ames High officially coming to a close May 23rd at graduation.
"The ceremony was a big deal. We had it at the coliseum which is where Iowa State plays their games," Barnes said. "Afterward my mom told me she was very proud of me for everything that I accomplished in high school and she's ready for my next journey."
Since donning his cap and gown, Barnes has spent most of his time preparing his mind and body for the next step. He spent the spring competing for the Ames High track team -- finishing fifth in the state in the high jump and sixth in the long jump -- but now he's spending his time solely on basketball.
"I've just been working out, making sure that I'm in shape and my game is on point," Barnes said.
Barnes has tried to address every aspect of his game with a special focus on his ball-handling but he also said he wants to be in the right state of mind heading into college. "I want to make sure that I'm ready to go down there and not only play basketball but also be ready to learn and absorb as much as I can," Barnes said.
While Barnes got the superstar treatment by ESPN for his college announcement, he's arriving in Chapel Hill a little more modestly. Barnes, his mother and his sister will make the 1,000-mile, near 19-hour drive to Chapel Hill this weekend, but even the long commute isn't putting a damper on Barnes' enthusiasm.
In addition to workouts in the Smith Center, Barnes is taking two classes this summer -- economics and public speaking -- and said he looked forward to trying to catch Tyler Zeller for the best GPA on the team.
"Econ is a very challenging class from what I've heard so I'm definitely looking forward to that challenge," Barnes said. "Public speaking should be nice. Hopefully I can get a good grade in the class with all the work I've done with the media over the last couple years."
Barnes said managing his time wisely will be important but that he shouldn't be at a loss for motivation this summer. Watching Carolina struggle through a 20-17 season last winter was tough for Barnes, who called the season a "roller coaster of emotions."
"It was real rough because of the great season they'd had previously," Barnes said. "But it just motivates me to come in this year and be able to hopefully do big things. As a whole we'll have a lot more experience, a lot more depth with us acquiring Justin Knox. So that'll be great and I think as a team, as a whole, we'll be better."
The summer will be important for the young Heels but Barnes said his focus is on the first day he puts his No. 40 jersey on in practice. Regardless of his reputation or expectations, Barnes said he'll have to earn his respect the old-fashioned way.
"I think no matter what kind of season they had (last year), my role will be determined ultimately by my play in practice," Barnes said. "I hope through my play in practice I can show Coach Williams and show the team that I can help."
In addition to his putting points on the board, Barnes also said he plans on setting the tone with his defense.
"One of my goals going into the season is to be able to guard some of the better perimeter players on the opposing team because I felt we had a problem last year with our defense," Barnes said. "So I definitely want to establish myself first on the defensive end because defense wins championships."
And in the end, championships are all that matters to Barnes. He might have filled his trophy case with individual accolades in high school, but he says he has just one real goal in college.
"To win a national championship," Barnes said bluntly. "If we win a national championship, all of my individual goals will take care of themselves."