Harrison Barnes, the No. 1 player in 2010 class, likes what Tubby Smith has done at Minnesota
Updated: 05/07/2009 12:18:19 AM CDT
The last time Harrison Barnes came to Minnesota, he might have gone overlooked by fans.
That won't be the case this weekend.
Recently named the No. 1-ranked player in the nation's 2010 class by Scout.com, the 6-foot-7, 205-pound junior from Ames, Iowa, mentioned the University of Minnesota among his top 12 schools. Others included Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Kentucky.
It's hard to believe the Gophers made that list, but it's true.
"I think he loves the coaching staff up there and what they have to offer," said former Tartan High School and Iowa State standout Jake Sullivan, Barnes' AAU coach with the All-Iowa Attack. "A unique thing with Harrison is that it's going to be a drawn-out process. I think he has as good a chance at going to Minnesota as anywhere else right now."
With coach Tubby Smith leading the Gophers back to the NCAA tournament last season and bringing in another top recruiting class next season, Minnesota fans have a reason to think big.
But Barnes, who plans to play Friday through Sunday in the Sabes Foundation Invitational at Bloomington Jefferson High School, represents the kind of player not even the most diehard Minnesota followers would have dreamed would be interested in a program two seasons removed from the bottom of the Big Ten Conference.
"I like Minnesota because coach Smith has come in there and really turned things around," said Barnes, who wants to take all of his official visits once he trims his list to five schools after the summer. "I haven't had a chance to check out the campus yet, but I definitely will."
Ames High School, which also produced former Iowa State and Timberwolves guard Fred Hoiberg, might soon be best-known for being Barnes' alma mater.
Barnes is considered the best small forward in the country and No. 4 overall prospect by Rivals.com, and he is solidifying himself as Iowa's best high school player ever.
"I think it's very humbling," said Barnes, who patterns his all-around game after Cleveland Cavaliers all-star LeBron James. "It just shows all of the hard work I've put in so far, but the rankings aren't over yet. At the end of the summer, I want to be the No. 1 player in the country."
Some might think Minnesota and Smith have no realistic shot at landing Barnes, especially when fellow national championship coaches such as Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and Kansas' Bill Self already have shown up at Barnes' high school and gotten him to attend their games last season.
Signing high-profile local products Royce White and Rodney Williams Jr. was huge for Smith. But getting Barnes likely would be one of the most impressive recruiting efforts of his career.
So far, so good. Barnes enjoyed his conversation with Smith and described him as a "very personable guy."
"I think he's a great coach," Barnes said. "Minnesota basketball had a good tradition in the past, and it's on the rise to getting back that prestige."
Barnes has Minnesota connections beyond Sullivan, his AAU coach and an Oakdale native. He called White and Williams his "good friends" since they were on the same team in summer camps. He also began playing part time with the Howard Pulley AAU program this spring.
Rene Pulley, the program's founder, compared Barnes to Kansas City native and current Indianapolis Pacers guard Brandon Rush, who earned All-America honors while leading Kansas to a national title in 2008. Rush also played with the Howard Pulley program briefly.
"He might be more skilled, as far as his ball-handling and jump shot," Pulley said of Barnes, who carries a 3.9 grade-point average. "He could end up playing in the NBA after a year or two years in college like Brandon, because he's mentally ready for that level. How he prepares for the game, his work ethic and intelligence stand out."
After his collegiate career ended in 2004, Sullivan, also a Howard Pulley alum, built an AAU club from scratch in Ames, where the Iowa State campus is. Sullivan's AAU club has about 300 members, but the player he helped develop from a raw seventh-grader to the country's No. 1 recruit put his program on the map.
"There's nothing he can't do on the basketball court, and he's so strong and so explosive," Sullivan said of Barnes. "I was actually thinking this past weekend that I wish I saw LeBron James play in high school, because some of the things Harrison was doing I had never seen before out of a kid in AAU basketball."
At one of the last tournaments we were at I noticed some of the younger Attack players that came to watch Harrison play...