CJ's Corner: Julius Barnes Senior Tribute

Rather than take a look at global trends, stats or analyses on Stanford basketball, this week in CJ's Corner celebrates the triumphant journey that senior point guard Julius Barnes has taken in his four years on The Farm. His plays have been exciting; his growth has been inspiring. And we humbly attempt here to recap some of the fondest memories he has given us in a Cardinal uniform.

Julius Barnes is the lone senior on this year's Stanford squad (in terms of basketball eligibility).  As he winds down his Stanford career, with only the Cal game and the postseason left, I want to devote this edition of CJ's Corner to Julius.  Countless profiles and statistical analyses of Julius Barnes' career at Stanford are available on the internet and in other media; I won't repeat what others have catalogued elsewhere.  Instead, I want to pay tribute to Julius by sharing my own personal memories and highlights of his career at Stanford. 

A different kind of point guard

When Julius first committed to Stanford in June of 1998, he was lauded as the next great Stanford point guard by many, including Mike Montgomery, who set the bar high when he said that Julius "could be one of the great collegiate point guards in the country in the years ahead."  The respect was mutual, and Julius described Stanford, which was coming off a Final Four appearance, as "one of the best collegiate basketball programs in the country."  Julius averaged 25 points per game and 7 assists his junior year at Rowland High School, and expectations among Cardinal fans were high.

I first got an opportunity to see Julius in preseason practices in the Fall of 1999.  He was clearly a point guard with physical abilities the likes of which Stanford fans had never seen before.  His quickness trailed only Brevin Knight in recent Stanford history, and his jumping ability was off the charts.  It didn't take long for Julius to create a reputation as an explosive player.  In an exhibition game, Julius threw down one of the biggest dunks this fan has ever seen from a Stanford player.  Julius swooped in from the left wing, but a defender had the angle to cut him off.  Julius took off from edge of the lane, elevated over the defender and crammed it with his left hand.  The sparse crowd issued a collective gasp. 

Julius Introduces Himself to a National Audience – Duke I

Julius wasted little time introducing himself to a much, much wider audience.  Julius' first official college game was the first D-1 game played in the 1999-2000 season.  It matched Stanford against Duke at Madison Square Garden, and it was broadcast to a national television audience by ESPN.  I made the cross-country trip and sat in the rafters to watch what turned out to be one of the most exciting (albeit far from the most well-played) game of the season.  Stanford edged Duke in overtime, on the strength of back-to-back threes by starting point guard Mike McDonald.  But Stanford's backup point guard had a pair of clutch threes of his own.  Julius stepped onto the national stage, in the most famous basketball arena in the world, in front of a national television audience, against the consensus freshman of the year (Jason Williams), and calmly dropped a pair of threes on the hated Dukies.  After the second one, my father, who pays no attention to college basketball and never comments during games, asked "who is THAT?"  "Julius Barnes -- a FRESHMAN!" I exclaimed, laughing.  Despite his neophyte status, Julius recalls being calm in the hostile environs of MSG.  "I was nervous when I found out that we were playing Duke in our first game.  Then when I stepped into Madison Square Garden, all the butterflies went away," he recalls.   Julius would go on to finish his debut with seven points in 11 minutes against the Devils, and more importantly, got the W.  It was the first of 100 wins (and counting) at Stanford for Julius. 

Julius would go on to tally seven points in a couple of other games that season, but with steady point guard play from Mike McDonald, Julius rarely played extended minutes.  The Card finished the season 27-4 and won the Pac-10 Championship. 

Sophomore Season; Duke II

The 2000-2001 Stanford team was the best of the Mike Montgomery era at Stanford.  The Cardinal featured the most efficient offense in the country, and seven different players shot 40% from deep, led by Mike McDonald, who took his game to the next level as a senior and shot better than 51% from beyond the arc.  With McDonald running the team with incredible efficiency, Julius' opportunities were limited. 

Nevertheless, Julius made the most of his opportunity in one of the great games in Stanford basketball history.  The opponent was #1 ranked Duke, and the setting was a packed house at the Arena in Oakland featuring the largest crowd to ever witness a college basketball game in California.  The Devils jumped out to an early lead, and the Cardinal found itself trailing by double digits most of the game.  Stanford trailed by as many as 15 with under seven minutes left in the contest, and the score was 77-66 at the last television timeout.  Stanford's hopes were fading. 

The capacity crowd was looking for an excuse to get into it.  However, All-American Jason Williams, who would eventually finish the game with 26 points, was giving Mike McDonald all he could handle.  Coach Montgomery turned to Julius Barnes for a spark off the bench.  Julius provided the spark, and the Cardinal offense caught fire.  In a feat that the Cardinal may never match, Stanford scored on its last 14 possessions of the game.   Julius put the defensive clamps on Jason Williams, and created shots on offense.  In one sequence, Julius raced up the left wing, and as freshman Chris Duhon streaked in to make a defensive play, Julius stopped on a dime, sending Duhon sprawling by harmlessly.  Duhon's jock was never recovered, and the sight of the previous season's national high school player of the year flying out of my view into the corner is one that I remember with great fondness.  Julius recalls the play well: "I was surprised when I saw the tape how far he fell on that play.  He's a good player, but when I see some of the hype for individual player ratings, it just reinforces my belief in the East Coast bias.  There are a lot of West Coast players who get no respect."  Julius was playing instinctively and effectively and earning respect, and when he scored on a layup with just over a minute left, it capped an 11-1 run that tied the game at 79.  "I was going full speed down the court.  [Shane] Battier tried to stop me, but I left my feet from like seven feet away and put it off the glass.  I wasn't thinking, just trying to bring us back," recalls Barnes.  Stanford would go on to win on Casey Jacobsen's 15-foot fallaway jumper off the glass.  Casey would get most of the post game attention, and he earned it with 26 points on 11-19 shooting.  Nevertheless, it was a total team effort that included nine points, three boards, two steals and a block by Julius.  A modest Barnes now downplays his role in the historic victory: "I wasn't required to do much at the point back then - just get the ball to guys in a position they could score.  But we had so much talent at all positions that it was easy."  Nevertheless, those of us who were there will never forget the spark that Julius provided in one of the biggest wins and greatest games in Stanford history. 

Julius went on to provide valuable minutes backing up both guard spots throughout the 2000-01 campaign, with a season high of 15 points on 6-9 shooting from the field (3-5 from deep) against Oregon State, and the Cardinal won the Pac-10 championship for the third straight season, finishing the year with an Elite Eight appearance and an incredible 31-3 record. 

Junior Year; Changing Roles

Julius' junior campaign was a frustrating one for Stanford fans, and at times, Stanford players.  The point guard position was handled by committee, with Tony Giovacchini starting, and Julius and Chris Hernandez playing significant minutes at the 'one' as well.  Julius started 24 games at the shooting guard position, but was forced to shuffle back and forth between the one and two spots, his role varying with the opponent and the individual player matchups.  This was no small feat, as the guard positions have distinctly different responsibilities in the Stanford offense. 

Julius responded to the challenge in a way that Stanford fans should all be proud of.  Despite being frustrated at times and even a brief consideration of transferring prior to the season, Julius never publicly complained, never got down on the program, and responded as a consummate team player.  He did everything the staff asked of him, and despite the difficulty inherent in switching between positions within a given game, Julius managed to score almost 11 points per game (just under 12 ppg in conference play), while leading the team in free throw percentage and finishing second in assists. 

Although Julius had a number of solid performances his junior year, including a fine performance against Michigan State in the Pete Newell Challenge in which he scored 19 on 7-9 shooting and dished out fou assists, he had one performance that stood out from the rest.  In the Pac-10 season opener against Cal, the explosive scorer blew up for 27 points on 8-12 shooting (4-7 from three) and added five assists and three steals in a 82-62 pasting of the Bears.  Julius played much of the game at the point guard position, and he gave Stanford fans a glimpse into the future while giving himself a confidence boost.  "I just remember being really aggressive.  Attack the basket and make shots.  That game really helped me in terms of building my confidence, but as soon as it was over, I was thinking about turning around and trying to complete the sweep at their place.  Unfortunately that didn't happen," says Barnes.  The Cal game saw what Julius now describes as his most memorable play in his Stanford career to date, a spectacular 360 degree spinning layup.  Recalls Barnes: "It was just a spur of the moment thing - instinctual.  I had never done it before."  It was also something Stanford fans had never seen before.

Senior Year – Julius Leads the Way

Any discussion of this season has to begin with the off-season work that the Cardinal players put in.  As readers of The Bootleg Magazine know, Julius and most of the rest of the squad remained at or near Stanford for the Summer and dedicated themselves to coming into the season in the best possible physical condition.  Julius added a considerable amount of muscle through those grueling workouts, and as he reflects on the off-season, he recognizes the impact those workouts had not only on the players' individual physiques, but on the cohesiveness of the team.  Says Barnes: "Previous summers were all about individuals improving themselves.  But last year was all about the team.  And that's made a difference with our team this year.  Whether it's morning lifts, afternoon runs or individual workouts, we've done it together.  That has been an important piece of the puzzle for us."

Julius came into the preseason slated to start at the familiar shooting guard spot, although he was expected to slide over to the point at times in relief of Chris Hernandez.  The pair of guards looked good in preseason practices and seemed settled into their respective roles, but when Chris suffered a broken foot, Julius became not only the primary, but also the only experienced, point guard.  Although somewhat reserved by nature, Julius increasingly took on a leadership role befitting his senior status and his position on the floor.  Of his role as a team leader, Barnes says, "I tend not to make a big deal about things.  It's just something I enjoy doing.  But I wasn't a vocal player coming in - I've had to learn to be vocal.  Whether guys respect that or not is up to them.  Off the court, I'm not much of a talker, so it's been a great change and opened me up a lot - on and off the floor.  It's impacted a lot of what I do and how I interact with other people."

It took Julius a couple of games to fully settle into the point guard role, but the Card managed critical preseason wins over Boston University and then 11th ranked Xavier (which Julius describes as his favorite game of the season to date – "It wasn't anything individual I did, but it was such a big win for our team to start the season").  However, Julius exploded in the third game of the season, setting a school record with 8 three pointers (out of 11 attempts) and scoring 28 points with 4 assists in beating Rice.  Julius and backcourt mate Matt Lottich were unstoppable in the second half, and the guard tandem combined for 14 three pointers.  The Rice game was Julius' first truly outstanding individual performance as Stanford's starting point guard.  After three years of bouncing back and forth between the guard positions, Julius had finally become the man at the one.

Julius had a number of very solid games over the following weeks, but the next truly memorable performance from Julius came at Maples Pavilion against USC.  The Trojans had torched the Cardinal all three times the teams met last year, and there was some concern among fans that the struggling Trojans might match up reasonably well with the Cardinal given their considerable quickness and athleticism.  However, Julius did a fantastic defensive job on the perimeter against the Craven twins, limiting their penetration and preventing them from creating in Henry Bibby's pro-style offense.  On the offensive end, Julius exploded for 27 points, repeatedly getting to the line where he finished a perfect 13-of-13 on free throws.  He sealed the deal late with his perfect performance from the line and exorcised a lot of demons for Stanford fans.

A couple of weeks later, Julius would score a career high 33 points and add seven rebounds in a critical road win in Corvallis against the Oregon State Beavers.  The Card was coming off a disappointing performance against Oregon and badly needed the win to stay in the conference race.  Julius saw to it with one of the more dominant offensive performances by a Stanford point guard in years.  (Unlike the other games highlighted in this article, the author was unable to attend the contest in person, nevertheless, the performance has to be included among Julius' most memorable for me.) 

Julius has finished strong this regular season, with a pair of scintillating performances against UCLA on the road and against Arizona State at home.  Against UCLA, Barnes dominated a high-scoring affair with 27 points (on 8-15 shooting from the field and 4-7 from beyond the arc) and seven assists, while playing all 40 minutes.  While his offensive output was certainly eye-opening, his ability to control the game and make the right decisions, particularly when the game was close down the stretch, made Julius' performance exceptional.  He wasn't just a scorer who happened to be playing the point, he was a scoring point guard.

Julius would play a similar game just days later at home against a dangerous Arizona State team hungry to avenge a narrow loss to the Cardinal earlier in the season.  Arizona State features one of the quickest defenses in the Pac-10 if not the country, but Julius was more than up to the task.  He handled the Sun Devils' full-court man to man pressure masterfully, while getting only one minute of rest the whole game, and he turned the ball over just once.  Julius made great decisions in the half court offense, and all but one or two of his shot attempts came within the flow of the offense.  The senior posted 29 points, including a perfect 4-4 from deep and 13-13 from the line.  He also tallied four assists.  Given the quickness and full-court pressure employed by ASU, I would rank Julius' performance against the Sun Devils as arguably his best yet in a Stanford uniform.

After four years at Stanford, and the difficulty associated with frequent position changes, it's finally all come together for Julius.  Barnes recently summed up his progress: "It's been difficult getting used to individual players and what they like to do.  At the 'one' you get a much better feel for them than at the 'two'.  It was a challenge at first for me.  Then I got used to the idea and role that I would be playing the two this year, but Chris broke his foot and it started all over again.  For me to be able to score so many points like I have lately and keep my composure - not taking any bad shots - I just ask myself why did it take that long to get to this point, where the game feels this easy?"

Preparing for a Strong Finish

Julius career at Stanford to date has been a study in perseverance.  He came into the program full of promise and talent, but at times, Julius tried to do too much or didn't play within himself.  In many ways, though, Julius' struggles have made me a bigger fan of his than of most other Stanford players.  Many, maybe even most college basketball players would have grown frustrated having to play behind a solid point guard (Mike McDonald) for two years and to switch between two positions that are very different in the Stanford system.  Julius could have given up and not played hard, vocalized his frustrations, or even transferred.  Instead, he persevered in the face of the challenges, remained a tremendous team player who did whatever was asked of him, and now is reaping the benefits.  He has led this surprising Stanford team to 22 wins (and counting), a national ranking, and tremendous respect.  On a team whose success has been built on a foundation of great chemistry, teamwork and effort, Julius has led the way by example. 

As Julius enters the home stretch of his Stanford career, he is playing some of his best basketball.  Although he has turned in some heady performances, those who expect a drop-off as the stakes get higher are likely to be disappointed.  When asked what his best performance at Stanford has been, the senior leader says: "I have yet to really play my best game."

Postscript: Off-Court Memories

In connection with this article, Julius was asked to recount some of his favorite off-court memories Stanford.  With apologies to Curtis Borchardt, this was Julius' response: "I don't know why, but they all include Curtis.  One time he and I were riding our bikes and he had his crutches with him, across his handle bars.  He fell over into the grass by Sweet Hall, and I just couldn't stop laughing.  Another time he, Justin and I were riding our bikes and Curtis tried riding with no hands.  He lost control and almost bit it.  Then there was another time he had his crutches and fell down the stairs.  He went down like six or seven stairs, and it was hysterical."

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