Former Stanford guard Julius Barnes was cut by the Washington Wizards Sunday, following four days of mini-camp in preparation for a week of summer league games in Boston. If the Wizards' 82-50 loss to Atlanta in their summer league opener is a sign of things to come, they might think twice about dumping the undrafted free agent who was one of the most athletic players to ever don a Cardinal basketball uniform.
Following Stanford's 85-74 loss to UConn in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Barnes, who poured in a team-high 23 points in defeat, had little time to reflect on his senior season—in which he led the Cardinal in scoring with 16 points per game and earned first team All Pac-10 honors. More importantly, Barnes helped Stanford to 24 wins, a victory over then-No. 1 Arizona in Tucson and ultimately another trip to the NCAA tournament in a season many analysts originally forecasted as culminating in an NIT bid.
It was a rewarding senior season for sure. After starting point guard Chris Hernandez went down with an injury early in the season, Barnes was called on to orchestrate the Cardinal offense at times and performed admirably, averaging a team-best 3.8 assists per game. The situation gave scouts a look at what the 6-1 Barnes can do in his projected NBA position.
"The knock on me has been that I'm a scorer in a point guard's body," Barnes said.
While his Stanford teammates could reflect on their accomplishments and ponder the necessary preparation for the next season, the loss to the Huskies marked the beginning of next step in Barnes' quest to play in the NBA.
"It began on the flight home from Spokane," Barnes said. "The mindset was, ‘things are going to get harder now.'"
Barnes got a taste of just how much harder it would get, as he worked out for about 10 teams before June's NBA Draft, including the Blazers, Raptors, Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers and Suns.
According to Barnes, he received positive feedback from officials with several teams, but on draft night, of the 58 college and high school players' names called, Barnes' was not one of them.
"It would've been good to be drafted but it doesn't always work out," said Barnes, who added he was surprised former college standouts Hollis Price and Jason Gardner, among others, also weren't drafted.
Following the draft, Barnes agreed to attend mini-camp with the Wizards, a team he did not work out for previously.
"The phone wasn't ringing off the hook, but I'm fortunate enough to have an agent who found me an opportunity," Barnes said during mini-camp.
And so Barnes made his way to Washington, where most of the faces in practice were new to him--a group of rookies, young players and undrafted free agents. There were some familiar faces, too.
Former Cal standout Joe Shipp, who also failed to make the final cut, roomed with Barnes during mini-camp.
New Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld, who sat in on every practice, is the father of Barnes' former teammate Dan Grunfeld.
"There's been a lot of drill work so we haven't had that much scrimmaging, but he's very explosive, very athletic, a very good outside shooter, he's a good defender and I think he's been very competitive," Grunfeld said Friday.
"Ernie's seen me throughout the season and knows what I'm capable of," Barnes said. "I'm having fun. I don't know what will happen because it's something I can't control, but I'm giving it my best shot and hopefully things will pan out well."
After a couple days of mini-camp, Barnes talked about his first taste of what it's like to be a part of an NBA team: "Practices are a lot different. They're shorter and more intense. As a veteran at Stanford, coaches would pull you aside during some practices if they knew you played a lot of minutes the night before. Here, I'm just thrown into the water and it's sink or swim."
Barnes' work was cut out for him from the start in D.C., where one of the most important offseason goals for an organization that has become accustomed to losing—after naming a new head coach, Eddie Jordan-- was finding a steady point guard.
After drafting Georgia's Jarvis Hayes with the 11th pick overall in an effort to satisfy their scoring needs, the Wizards selected Maryland's Steve Blake in the second round as their possible point guard of the future. For more immediate returns at the position, the Wizards are reportedly pursuing free agents Speedy Claxton and Gilbert Arenas.
While things did not pan out well for Barnes in Washington, he has some valuable professional experience under his belt. The odds are stacked against any undrafted free agent but Barnes' ability to score on the perimeter and by slashing to the hoop, coupled with his improvement at the point guard position, could make him an attractive target for any number of teams looking to fill a void at the point as a result of injury during the season.
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