Harrison Barnes is used to having all eyes on him.
As the soon-to-be draftee walked off the Washington Wizards’ practice court at Verizon Center last week having just completed his third workout with an NBA team, a relaxed Barnes was grinning from ear to ear.
During his two seasons at North Carolina, Barnes was weighed down by the expectations that came with being a No. 1 high school recruit.
But now, as the small forward patiently waits to learn what jersey he’ll be sporting for the 2012-13 NBA season, Barnes is at peace. This time around, there will be no ESPN-televised news conference announcing a decision, no pressure thrust on him to carry a team to a national title.
And that’s just the way Barnes likes it.
“When I went to UNC, there were a lot of expectations put on my recruiting class,” said Barnes, who is projected to be a top-10 pick in Thursday’s draft. “Coming into the NBA draft, it’s not really my control.”
After averaging more than 15 points per game during his freshman campaign, many expected Barnes to join the ranks of the one-and-done and declare for the NBA draft after the Tar Heels’ Elite Eight exit. Instead, he returned for his sophomore year in hopes of winning an NCAA title.
That championship never came.
Barnes had a series of underwhelming performances in North Carolina’s 2012 NCAA tournament run, shooting just 3 for 16 as UNC eked by Ohio in the Sweet 16. Barnes was the first to acknowledge he had failed to step up following the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels’ season-ending loss to Kansas in the next round. The media soon jumped on board.
“It is what it is,” Barnes said about the criticism he received following the team’s ousting. “That’s people’s jobs, to critique people. I just happened to get a fair amount of that.”
Barnes glossed over questions concerning his college career, instead shifting the focus to the next step in his journey. After all, those bumps in the road are behind him.
Barnes’ measurements stood out at the NBA combine — especially his 38-inch vertical jump, which according to Draft Express, ranks fourth all-time. Washington could use a good shooter to pair with point guard and 2010 No. 1 draft pick John Wall.
It’s still to be determined whether the Wizards will use their No. 3 pick on Barnes. In the past couple of weeks, the Wizards have had visits from other top candidates, including Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kansas’ Thomas Robinson.
But after his Washington workout, Barnes’ eyes lit up at the suggestion that he and Wall might soon be teammates.
“I feel like I’d be a good running mate,” Barnes said. “Obviously, you know John, he’s very quick, very explosive. He can get to the rim, so I feel like he can definitely draw people in and I can be the outside threat to keep people honest.”
Ultimately, the decision concerning Barnes’ future will be made for him. It’s a responsibility he’s more than willing to give up.
“There’s no pressure now,” Barnes said. “I just go and audition and try to be as professional as possible.”