Rick Barnes talks basketball, community

Hickory native and current University of Texas men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes was at his alma mater, Lenoir-Rhyne, on Thursday and Friday for his annual basketball camp.

Barnes is a three-time Big 12 coach of the year (1999, 2003, 2008) and has guided the Longhorns to three Big 12 championships (1999, 2006, 2008) and 13 NCAA tournament appearances, including one Final Four appearance in 2003.

Barnes owns a career head coaching record of 524-257 as the coach for Texas (1999-present), Clemson (1995-1998), Providence (1989-1994) and George Mason (1988). He graduated from L-R in 1977.

O-N-E Sports Editor Cody Dalton interviewed Barnes before his camp started, and the discussion covered a variety of topics, from the camp and his coaching career to his former players.

Q: What’s it like coming back here to Lenoir-Rhyne and the Hickory community?

A: “It is always good to come home. Hickory is home to me and always will be. ... even though I don’t get to stay as much as I would like to because this time of year is a major recruiting period for us where I have got to get in here and out. I wish I could spend more time here. It is neat to come back, see old friends, the place you grew up and how its changed. It’s amazing how it’s changed. It seems like every time I leave and come back, there is something new and different. I think Hickory is a beautiful place. I will always call it home.”

Q: What do you want the kids in your camp to take out of this?

A: “I want these kids to realize that it is a great thing to be a part of a game. That, and the friendships that you build and the people you meet. I told them that you never know where this game can lead you. I just hope these kids will leave here making a friend and realizing this game is fun and can be something you can hold on to for a long time.”

Q: I read somewhere that you wanted coach basketball, but after watching the ACC tournament, you were drawn to the college game. What was it about college basketball that intrigued you so much?

A: “I grew up wanting to be a high school coach and a P.E. teacher. When I left school, there were no P.E. jobs available. I really believe fitness should be an important part of our make-up. I couldn’t get a job. I knew I wouldn’t be a good classroom teacher. I was invited to the ACC tournament by Paul Abbott, the owner of Paul Abbot Mills. I had a chance to work with his sons at North State Academy, but they would come down to the Foundation Center, which is now the YMCA. Paul asked me and Candy to come to a game with them. I remember driving down I-40 and seeing the hotel were all the Wolfpack faithful were staying. The excitement around the ACC tournament, there was nothing like it. I don’t care what session of games you went to, people were there at the tournament. I felt the excitement. I remember walking out and telling Candy that I’d love to be able to coach at that level.”

Q: A former player of yours, Kevin Durant, is excelling in the NBA. How often do you keep in touch with Kevin and other former players and what do you think about his development in the NBA so far?

A: “I told people by the time he was 25, he’d be the best player in the NBA. I missed it by a couple of years. Everything that has happened to him, it couldn’t happen to a finer person. I tell people all the time as much as I certainly enjoyed having the opportunity to coach him for a year, being around him and getting to know him, he is a much better person than he is a player. I tell people all the time that his greatest attribute as a basketball player is being the best teammate we’ve ever coached. He truly understands that basketball is a team sport, and it is about winning. He has no ego. He always puts people ahead of himself.

Q: Your team finished ranked No. 16 in the country with a 28-8 record. Talk about your expectations for this upcoming season.

A: “You go back to last year. We lost a lot of players. We ended up starting two freshmen, a sophomore and two seniors. We weren’t supposed to be picked that high. Obviously, you are disappointed at the end of the year if you don’t win the NCAA Tournament. That is the bar we’ve set at Texas, and we want to be the best. We aren’t going to make excuses for how high we’ve set the bar. We are never going to lower that expectation. This year will be no different. We lost a total of eight player, five to graduation and three to the NBA early. This spring, we had three scholarship players in our program to work with, along with two walk-ons. We’ve added some pieces. We are going to be young. We are going to have to take that team and make it the best it can be. We think if we do what we are capable of doing, that we are going to find a way to compete. We will never lower the bar we’ve set.”

Q: The Texas basketball schedule was released recently and your team will travel to Chapel Hill on Dec. 21 to play in the Smith Center against UNC. Talk a little bit about that game.

A: “I really appreciate Roy Williams. For years, we’d try to figure out a way to get a home-and-home schedule with North Carolina and Duke. We wanted to get back to this part of the country. We have a schedule that goes nationally. We put together a game where we’d opened up Jerry Jones’ new Dallas Cowboy Stadium two years ago. Roy came out for that. We returned for a game in Greensboro. During that game, I asked Roy about how he’d felt about continuing the series and going home and home with it. Roy is a very honest person. He said he was in a bind with his schedule. He told me he’d do it, but they needed a year off. He called me and our athletic director of operations and ended up having an opening with his schedule this year. He called me and asked that if we started, he’d like to do a four-year series. He said we could start in Chapel Hill or in Austin, whichever works. It worked better for us, even though we’d been to Greensboro this past year, to come back to Chapel Hill this year because we had to take a year off from our series with Michigan State and Connecticut. We started a series with UCLA as well. I appreciate Roy for agreeing to do it. This year, there won’t be a whole bunch of teams wanting to play those guys anywhere, especially in Chapel Hill. We’ve built our program to a point to where we play one of the best schedules in the country. It will be interesting because our league is down to 10 teams, and we are going to have a round robin. I can’t imagine when the season is over with that anyone will play a more difficult schedule than we will this year.

Q: The University of Texas and ESPN are partnering for the first-ever Longhorn Network. What do you think about the university having its own network?

A: “I’m not surprised at anything that happens at the University of Texas. We have a great president in Bill Powers. I have the best athletic director in the country in DeLoss Dodds. He knew the Texas was a place that could carry its own network. I think it speaks volumes at the University of Texas that ESPN wanted to be a part of it. I had a person at ESPN tell me that every time they get into a venture, they know it is going to be good, but it exceeds what they think. ESPN-Texas will far exceed what we can envision right now.