The significance of Harrison Barnes’ awesomely bizarre decision
There is a debate brewing on the significance of Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, and Perry Jones choosing to return for their sophomore season, with some hoping that it turns into a much-needed trend, and others cautiously mindful that they are merely three individuals with an unusual preference. In the meantime, before an unlikely trend does or does not play out, Carolina fans should appreciate just how plainly bizarre Harrison’s return is in the current context. He and Sullinger are the first college basketball players in the last five years to be ranked in the top four of their high school class and not turn pro after one season.
A sophomore Harrison Barnes will be without question the most talented, formidable, NBA-ready force to play at Carolina since Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter. The past decade of Carolina basketball has ironically been its best while at the same time its least fruitful of star professionals. During 2009’s alumni game, the best on a floor full of Carolina’s pros were still Jamison and Carter, relics of the 90s outmatching every player the program produced since their departure. The 2000s produced five relevant NBA players – Raymond Felton, Brendan Haywood, Marvin Williams, Tyler Hansbrough, and Ty Lawson – with perhaps Wayne Ellington and Ed Davis soon to join. But of that small group none is or ever will be a star, which is interesting given that at one point in the early 2000s Rasheed Wallace, Jerry Stackhouse, Jamison and Carter were all playing at an All-Star level. I’m not complaining; we have shown that you can win huge with a team full of college superstars who will be merely solid in the NBA due to lack of NBA size or athleticism.
But enter Harrison Barnes to radically disrupt the trend. He is the kind of should-be-one-and-done player Roy has not typically recruited, and in a total coup, he stayed. There is a reason Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Hansbrough, Ellington, Lawson, and Danny Green stayed three or four years each: they were not Harrison Barnes. They may have matched and in some cases exceeded him in pure skill, but not in the total package of skill, athleticism, versatility and size. We have not seen a player like him in college for his sophomore year in a long time, in a really long time at Carolina, and he is playing against a weakened college basketball landscape due to the same reason it is so strange that he stayed.
It may alter our highlight reels in a way we haven’t seen since Carter’s famous dunks. Barnes is not the leaper Carter was, so it won’t be in that way that he lights up SportsCenter, but with his killer instinct at the end of games, his propensity for taking over individually when it is most needed, and his versatile ability to score almost at will in a variety of ways.
All of this does not mean necessarily that the 2012 team will be better than the 2005 or 2009 team – I don’t think it will. But it certainly helps to offset this team’s lack of an established trio of college superstars on the level of 2005’s and 2009’s. Most of the guys capable of effectively guarding Harrison Barnes are already playing at the next level, and that does add up to a unknown ceiling for his, and our season.