December 2, 2010
Ka'Ron Barnes knows a little bit about highlight clips. He was the point guard on Turner-Carroll basketball teams of the late 1990s that produced their own awe-inspiring moments on a per-game basis, none more enthralling than when hang-gliding Julius Page finished on the break.
Perhaps it was natural then that Barnes found work at ESPN when his playing days came to a close. Who has done more than the folks in Bristol, Conn., to emphasize the spectacular at the expense of the basics, to portray basketball as an endless series of backboard-swaying, rim-bending dunks and heaves drained from beyond the arc?
Barnes was on the fast track at the network, a production assistant as the morning edition of SportsCenter made its debut. Like basketball, it seemed to come naturally for him. He'd been a business major at Cornell, where he finished fifth on the career scoring list.
"I got good at it actually, just did everything on the fly," Barnes said by phone Wednesday from West Point. "When I was in college I did business. I didn't have any type of production background, so everything I was learning was hands-on at the time. I was liking that job. It was a good job and it was fun, but the opportunity to start coaching came along and I decided to go ahead and get back into the mix with basketball."
Barnes is in his second season as an Army assistant coach under Zach Spiker, a former Cornell player. He hopes to join Spiker in re-establishing the relevance of a program that counts Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski among its former coaches.
The setting is ideal for what Barnes hopes to achieve, for what lured him back to basketball in the first place. Knight and Krzyzewski are disciplinarians, passionate believers in the fundamentals. And while Barnes played on some jaw-dropping teams at Turner-Carroll, while he strung highlight reels at ESPN, he's at heart a point guard who appreciates the sport's nuances. It was while watching his younger brother
Rafiq play at Burgard that Barnes saw the game in a different light.
"My younger brother, he was in high school while I was at ESPN and I would go to watch his game and the game was just so much different amongst his generation," Barnes said. "Kids were just playing the game differently. There was a lot they needed to learn, I felt.
"So getting back into coaching was an opportunity for me I guess to try to bring back the same feeling we had when we were growing up and we were playing. It was an opportunity for me to get in there and teach the younger generation how to work, certain things to do to get good and what to look for while you're out there playing."
The realization might have escaped Barnes during his Turner-Carroll days, but the game changed long ago, particularly at the high school level, and perhaps in response to society as a whole. Players strive to get as far as they can as fast as they can. The goal is to make college a one-year pit stop on the way to the NBA. The idea is to get noticed, and the spectacular trumps the mundane in that regard.
"Whatever's the most flashy going to be in the news, it's what everybody's going to see," Barnes said.
"You don't really see too much of the fundamentals anymore," Barnes said. "That's where the whole coaching thing comes in. You have to teach that stuff, you have to teach the fundamentals. Those have to be solid for you to even have a chance to make a highlight play."
Barnes admits that experience has changed his outlook. He's developed a keener understanding of basketball's subtleties, has become more appreciative of a coach's perspective.
"As a player, you definitely see it different from what the coaches see," he said. "I was. Now I understand why coaches said what they were saying when I was a player."