The University of North Carolina has a long-standing tradition of sending its basketball players to the NBA. A breeding ground for sensational talents such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Rasheed Wallace, and Vince Carter, UNC has produced a star more recently in Harrison Barnes.
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A two-year member of Roy Williams’ program, Harrison Barnes entered the NBA draft in 2012 after his sophomore season at UNC. Since then, the standout shooting guard has been a starter for the Golden State Warriors in two of his three years in the league. In his second season with the Warriors, Barnes only started 24 of their 78 games, a change that he did not acclimate to very well.
“After my rookie season I felt like we had a good year, I felt like we could have kept the same guys and continued doing what we were doing. We just made some changes and it was just a different experience for me because I had come to the league and I was used to playing a certain way my rookie year, and to come and play a different role and play with a different unit and all that was why I struggled statistically,” Barnes recently told NBA.com.
Barnes’ statistical averages did take a hit in the 2013-2014 season coming off the bench; his field goal and three-point percentages dropped in his sophomore slump.
This season, his third, has by far been Barnes’ best. He started all 82 of the Warriors’ regular season games; he shot 48% from the field as well as 41% from three-point range, and took care of the ball, averaging less than one turnover per game in the regular season.
The rising star has not forgotten his collegiate experience, saying how his wish growing up was to play at North Carolina.
“That was a dream to play at Carolina. I remember I used to tell kids when I was 14 or 15 years old, I was like ‘I’m gonna play on the big stage, I’m going to go play at Carolina’ and these kids used to laugh me out of the gym. ‘Come on man, stop it. North Carolina? That’s the big stage.’ And that was always something I dreamed for and worked for, North Carolina was always the spot for me,” Barnes says.
Barnes has quickly found himself yet another family outside of his home state of Iowa in the Bay Area of northern California. The Golden State fans there have embraced him and have even given him a nickname: “The Senator.”
“That came from Jim Barnett [Warriors TV color analyst],” Barnes says. “I think we were just doing like a little Q&A interview my rookie year and he was like ‘You know you’re always going into politics and your answers are always so well-parsed I’m gonna start calling you “The Senator”,’ and I thought he was joking but he kept calling me that and calling me. Now every time he sees me he says ‘How’re you doing, Senator?’.”
Barnes has been known for his calm and often stately demeanor, even during his time at UNC, but his competitive side is no secret, either. As an important starter for the best team in the NBA, Barnes’ reputation grows with each passing game. Along with stars like Klay Thompson and MVP Stephen Curry, the Warriors have their eyes set on the highest of goals: winning an NBA championship.
“You know obviously it’s a very big accomplishment to win the division, that’s something we didn’t do obviously my first two years here. So, it’s a big goal, big milestone but it’s still a long journey to where we want to go,” Barnes says.
Starting their second round series this week against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Warriors are hoping to move on to the Western Conference Finals and face either the Houston Rockets or Los Angeles Clippers.
Next week on “Tar Heels in the Pros,” we’ll feature an ageless wonder – Vince Carter of the Memphis Grizzlies.