Harrison Barnes is just beginning to meet our absurd expectations. We’re hoping he continues to do so against Duke on Saturday.
We love players like Stephen Curry and Gordon Hayward. They’re guys, overlooked by the big collegiate programs, who find a way to succeed outside of the conventions of the five-star recruit. We can relate to them. Little-known and with little expected of them, they succeed in ways that we imagine—with a little luck—we might be able to one day.
From the start, not much is expected from these guys. So, whatever they do—however many points they score, however far they take their teams—it’s all a surprise. Every little success is a bonus. They’re the icing on the cake of sports fandom.
But for some reason I’m more drawn to the guys we expect it all from. I love watching the guy who struggles with the expectations, but eventually starts to figure everything out.
We put the world on their shoulders before they’ve done anything. They stumble around—almost dropping it—only to recover, catch their feet, and begin to raise that globe higher than ever before.
With these players, we expect success. Rather than sympathizing, we feel bad because, really, we can’t relate to what they’re feeling.
The expectations are too high. And they’re based off what? Highlight tapes, anonymous scouting reports, and glorified pickup games against prepubescent high schoolers. At first, the pressure suffocates, but, often, as the spotlight finds a new subject, they break free and start to scratch at that all that potential we imagined for them. It’s relieving to see them succeed. And relief, always, is a better feeling than surprise.
Harrison Barnes was the first freshman ever to be named to the preseason AP All-American first team. That means, without having ever played one game of college basketball, Barnes was considered one of the five best players in the country. Basketball hype had broken through and created a new peak. Above anything: it was absurd.
Surprise, surprise! Barnes struggled through the first three months of the year, as did his team. He didn’t score 20 points until January 29. The team lacked a veteran leader, and Barnes had to lead the team, while also trying to be himself—an 18-year-old kid. Those personas were irreconcilable, and North Carolina quickly dropped out of the top 25, losing three games in November.
But, whether it was the media moving on, more experience, or a combination of the two, Barnes has quietly become one of the best players in the country since that January 29 game. And it all came to a head on Wednesday when Barnes coolly crushed the hopes of Florida State with a last-second three:
Barnes is starting to show signs of being able to fulfill some of that potential we gave him. And it’s relieving. Now, he could go on to be nothing, he could go on to be an average NBA player, or he could go on to be an NBA star—we don’t know. But, for now, there’s just something comforting in seeing a guy like Barnes come to terms with his skills.
Maybe, by proving us all wrong, he’ll prove us right.
We’re pulling for Barnes to take down the evil Dookies. Despite this recent “please, please like us, we’re really not that terrible” campaign, we still can’t stand them. (Although, Ben Cohen’s Nolan Smith profile was awesome.) As Emma Carmichael at Deadspin wrote about Coach K:
He has developed a practiced rhetoric about creating scholar-athletes at his private university, which, he seems to believe, is the sacred ground for all that is holy in college athletics, and the result is the worst possible kind of elitism. It is elitism that pretends to have perspective.
Yeah, what she said.
And anyway, if Duke loses this game, there’s still a pretty good chance they’ll end up with a number one seed. They won’t be the champions of their conference, but they’ll be one of the four best teams in the country. In an upside-down, inside-out season, where no one wants to be number one, wouldn’t that make sense?