In front of an anxious crowd at his high school and a national TV audience on ESPN-U Friday afternoon, top-ranked recruit Harrison Barnes walked over to a laptop to connect by video conference to the coach whose school he planned to sign with.
After an awkward, 70-second pause while the video link was established, coach Roy Williams and the North Carolina team appeared on the projection screen at the gym at Ames High School in Iowa.
Cheers erupted in the gym. Williams explained that he’d gathered the whole team on the Chapel Hill end of the video conference.
“Coach, I know you’re in practice now, and I’ve got to get going on signing my letter of intent here,” Barnes said. “But I just want to let you know that I’ll be joining you next year on the squad. I can’t wait to play with all you guys.”
With the help of the high-tech gadgetry, Barnes announced one of the most highly anticipated recruiting decisions of all time. Barnes, a 6-foot-6 forward rated No. 1 in the Class of 2010 by scout.com, also considered Duke, Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma and UCLA.
Since birth, though, Barnes has had a sort of North Carolina tie. Before he was born, his mother, Shirley, taped many of former Tar Heel great Michael Jordan’s games with the Chicago Bulls in case she had a son.
When her only son was born, she named him Harrison Bryce-Jordan Barnes. During his visit to North Carolina earlier this fall for the school’s alumni game, Barnes and his family briefly met Jordan, although NCAA rules only allow a short greeting.
But Barnes cited Williams and the current North Carolina players as the reason he chose the Tar Heels.
“I just felt that not only is Coach Williams so good at instructing the game, I just had a great relationship with the players,” Barnes said on ESPN-U.
All-Star Sports recruiting analyst Bob Gibbons said that with Barnes joining shooting guard Reggie Bullock and point guard Kendall Marshall, North Carolina has one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Gibbons said it’s “a coin toss” between the Tar Heels and Ohio State to decide which school has the No. 1 class.
“I was so impressed watching the whole scenario today including the way he did it with his technical announcement,” Gibbons said. “. . .This kid is advanced and intelligent beyond his years, and I think Roy once again proves he’s the best recruiter not only in the ACC but in the nation. Harrison Barnes will be just a great recruit for North Carolina, and having Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock come in alongside him bodes well for the future of the Tar Heels’ program.”
Barnes’ decision was a blow to Duke, which hasn’t been to the Final Four since 2004 while the Tar Heels have been to three Final Fours and won two NCAA titles during that period. Barnes’ commitment could help make this the fourth time in the last five years that North Carolina’s recruiting class has been rated higher than Duke’s by scout.com
Gibbons predicted that Duke will try to find another small forward – Oak Hill Academy’s Roscoe Smith - to play with point guard Kyrie Irving, who’s rated as the No. 5 player in the class by scout.com. Smith, who’s 6-7, is rated the No. 32 player in the nation by scout.com and hasn’t committed yet.
Before conferencing in with Williams, Barnes said his decision was difficult because he had so many outstanding options. He said he had grown attached to the coaches at all the schools, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski included.
“Coach Krzyzewski and I have become very close over the last year and a half,” Barnes said. “Duke has high academics and is just unique in a variety of ways.”
But rival North Carolina is going to get Barnes as Williams continues to dominate recruiting in the ACC and across the country.