By Gethin Coolbaugh, Boston Sports Today
BOSTON -- Danny Ainge might be on the other side of 50, not to mention nearly two decades removed from his playing days, but don't think for a second that he's lost his trademark grit.
Harrison Barnes found that out first hand during a pre-draft workout down in Miami with the Boston Celtics in the summer of 2012. In typical Ainge fashion, the 14-year veteran turned president of basketball operations for the Celtics left a lasting impression on the eventual top-ten draft pick.
"He was trying to guard me, and he kept lighting up [his] assistant on a screen," Barnes said prior to the Golden State Warriors' game in Boston on March 5. "He's coming off and elbowing him. [He said] 'Harrison, coming off a screen, man, you've got to be physical. Offense is physical.' I always remember that just when you're attacking the rim, when you're doing things, just be aggressive."
Ainge didn't wind up bringing Barnes back to Boston -- the University of North Carolina standout was selected No. 7 overall by the Warriors -- but that advice hasn't fleeted from the second-year forward.
So far, those words of wisdom have served Barnes well. As a rookie, Barnes carved out a role as a starter and significant contributor on a team that would make a strong run in the playoffs. He started all 81 games, averaging 9.2 points with a true shooting percentage of 52.6 in 25.4 minutes a night.
Barnes took another major step forward in the postseason, as he saw his production on the offensive end jumped dramatically. In 12 games, Barnes put up 16.1 points per game with a true shooting mark of 54.4 percent, and he also brought down 6.4 boards per game, in 38.4 minutes per contest.
The offseason signing of former All-Star Andre Iguodala sent Barnes to the bench to start the year, but a mid-year injury would allow the 2012-13 NBA All-Rookie First-Teamer to slide back into the starting five. Even so, his minutes have actually increased, going from 25 to 28.4 through 58 games.
Others around the association have already taken notice of Barnes, and his athletic and aggressive style of play landed him a spot in this year's slam dunk contest at All-Star Weekend. As of Friday, Barnes has averages of 10.0 points and 4.0 boards and is knocking down 40.6 percent of his treys.
"I'm in my second year in the league. Hopefully there's a lot more to go," Barnes said of his progression. "I'm happy to be in a great situation to be here, but I always want to get better. I always want to work on my game. I feel like there's a lot of aspects I need to work on."
It shouldn't come as a surprise that a player with star potential like Barnes was linked to a number of rumors leading up to the NBA trade deadline, but Golden State wasn't ready to part ways with him just yet. For now, Barnes is a Warrior -- and he's happy to be one -- but he knows that could change.
"I'm just happy I'm still here now," he said. "You don't want to ever get locked into one place too much. You don't want to ever say you never want to leave. It's a business and a lot of that's out of my control."
As for the possibility that he could one day be reunited with his chipper pre-draft defender, Barnes wouldn't at all be turned off by the prospect of putting on green and playing in Boston.
"It's obviously a storied franchise," Barnes said of the 17-time world champions. "Obviously [I] like the guys [in Golden State], but you know it's never out of the question. You talk about college programs like UNC, Duke -- you know, the big heralded [teams], the big conferences -- it's one of those storied franchises. This team, the Lakers, you know, the Bulls, those teams where ... a lot of greats played."
Barnes: Big Time College Hoops Recruits Landing In Mass. Not Out Of The Question
Harrison Barnes didn't get to watch a lot of Boston College or UMass hoops growing up in Iowa. But if he did, there's a possibility he might have considered bringing his talents up to the northeast.
Instead, the young Barnes developed connections with the big-time collegiate stars of yesteryear, particularly those who played at the University of North Carolina, which he would eventually attend.
"If I grew up up here, obviously you know BC, I'd have a connection to BC, I'd have a connection to that," said Barnes. "I always watched UNC. A lot of my favorite players went there. That's what kind of had that connection for me."
Barnes never held anything against those local schools -- they just didn't make a push for him.
"For me, those aren't schools that really recruited me," Barnes said. "It really wasn't on my radar."
Aside from his childhood memories, Barnes was drawn to Chapel Hill by the big stage it offered.
"I mean, Carolina is one of those schools that, you know, you always dream about going to," he said. "You knew you'd be playing big games all the time, going to be playing under the bright lights. And that was one of the biggest things that, basketball wise, made me want to go there outside of obviously coach [Roy Williams] and the fact I was close to the teammates."
More often than not, players like Barnes -- the No. 1 rated player in the 2010 high school draft class by Scouts.com and ESPNU 100 -- will land at powerhouses like UNC, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky.
That won't always be the case for every star, though, as Barnes believes it's all up to the individual.
"Honestly, I think it's just whatever you're a fan of. I think that's what makes you go [to a school]," said Barnes. "Honestly, it's about personal preference. You've seen a guy like Reggie Jackson, who obviously I played against at BC, going to the NBA and doing things. There's been a slew of other people. MarShon Brooks played at Providence -- he was one of our teammates.
"I think it's just honestly when guys, whenever they find their little comfort zone of where they want to go and what they want to do, I think them coming to these types of schools isn't out of the question."
Gethin Coolbaugh is the Editor-In-Chief of Boston Sports Today. Twitter: @GethinCoolbaugh.