Naughton: From Ames to NBA, Barnes remains grounded
By: John Naughton
Harrison Barnes’ drive to the NBA Finals arrived like a full-throttle fast break.
He turns 23 Saturday. Just 23 … Can you believe it?
Barnes will celebrate his birthday by playing in the NBA Finals starting Thursday.
It’s just the latest fast-track achievement for a young man who always seemed to be ahead of most of his peers.
I first met Harrison when he was a sophomore at Ames High School. He was tall and slender and had one of those bright smiles that makes you want to smile back at him.
Two years later, he was leading Ames to a second consecutive state championship.
Fast forward five years later and he’s going head-to-head with LeBron James.
Barnes scored a season-high 24 points Wednesday to lead the Golden State Warriors past Houston 104-90 in the NBA’s Western Conference Finals. His team will now host Cleveland in the championship.
He joins three others as Iowa high school graduates who have played in the NBA Finals.
There was Bob Hansen of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, Matt Bullard of West Des Moines Valley and Nick Collison of Iowa Falls.
He’s the youngest of that group to reach the finals.
I’m fortunate enough to have covered all of them in high school.
Harrison’s mom, Shirley Barnes, was nice enough to call me Thursday. She was always a nice lady, and still never overwhelmed by fame.
Your son just made it to the NBA Finals, and you’re working your desk job at Iowa State?
Yep. She watched the decisive conference game from home Wednesday, then tried to clear her desk so she can watch her son in the championships next week.
“They’re just moments you can’t get back,” Shirley said.
Harrison, like his mom, has been a grounded person. And more than accommodating to reporters like me.
When I interviewed him during his college days at North Carolina — at a road game in Evansville, Ind. — I stepped into the locker room.
Harrison, future millionaire and first-round NBA Draft pick, pulled out a folding chair for me to sit.
That’s a microcosm of his character.
It also reflects why Iowans still love to follow Harrison’s achievements.
When Harrison signed with North Carolina, Iowans bought Carolina Blue jerseys and T-shirts.
He returned to Wells Fargo Arena in October for an exhibition game and renewed his friendship with the local fan base.
Barnes developed a friendship with Ryan Slaubaugh, a then 15-year-old from Wellman, who is hurting after cystic fibrosis claimed his father’s life.
It’s easy to see how Iowans are attached to someone like that.
Most homestate fans will turn on their TVs to watch Barnes try to win an NBA championship ring.
His mom will log off on her computer and take on the happiest jet lag she’s ever experienced.
“You can’t take this for granted,” Shirley said.
Nope. Neither will I.