Two years ago, Bo Barnes arrived to ASU as a walk-on to the men’s basketball team. The 6-foot-4 guard had transferred from Hawaii after a record-setting freshman season and needed to practically restart his college career.
Everyone knew then Barnes was a 3-point specialist. He rarely missed a shot in practice during the first year he had to sit out because of transfer regulations. Barnes spent a lot of time on the scout team and waited for his chance to play.
But when Barnes was finally eligible to play in the 2012-13 season, he had trouble translating his hot shooting to games and didn’t play many significant minutes. No one knew if he could be a big contributor to the team, and that uncertainty continued when he was still getting low playing time at the start of the 2013-14 season in his junior year.
That all changed on Jan. 16.
Senior guard Jermaine Marshall couldn’t play at UA due to a groin injury, forcing coach Herb Sendek to go deep into the bench. Barnes stepped in and scored 13 points, going 3-of-5 from the perimeter in 17 minutes.
Since then, Barnes has become a valuable reserve for the Sun Devils. The days of “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decision” next to his name on box scores seem like a distant memory.
“He’s finally got into a place where he’s comfortable enough to do it in games,” Sendek said. “He’s just at a place where he’s found his comfort zone and his confidence has grown. Some of the things we saw in practice, we’re seeing it in the games.
“He went from being on our scout team to, ‘Wait a second, this guy deserves to play, and rightly so.’ ”
ASU never recruited Barnes out of high school, so he originally committed to Liberty University from Scottsdale Christian Academy. When Liberty’s head coach left the program, he instead enrolled at Westwind Prep International. After a stellar year at Westwind Prep, Barnes took a scholarship offer at Hawaii.
Barnes played in every game in his first year and broke the Rainbow Warriors’ freshman record for most 3-pointers in a season. He averaged 6.6 points per game and played 23 minutes a night off the bench.
Even though he had stability on the team, being nearly 3,000 miles away from home wasn’t right for him. He needed to return to the mainland.
“All my family lives here, and I just missed them a lot,” Barnes said. “I didn’t get to go home all year. It was kind of hard to not even get a break, because we played a tournament over Christmas. That was the toughest.”
Barnes returned to the Valley and enrolled at ASU after then-assistant coaches Dedrique Taylor and Lamont Smith contacted him. The coaches didn’t have an open scholarship to give him but wanted him to play, so Barnes walked on anyway. He sat out the 2011-12 season with redshirt sophomore point guard Jahii Carson and former guard Evan Gordon. Sendek finally gave him a scholarship at the end of the year.
“They liked that I played well and that I played hard, so they gave me another one,” Barnes said.
“Keep working hard”
Barnes admitted he had his doubts in his first couple years on the team.
After all, he had just gone from playing a lot of minutes as a freshman at Hawaii to not even appearing in games at ASU. Last summer, the team loaded up with more wingmen by bringing players like Marshall, senior forward Shaquielle McKissic and freshman forward Egor Koulechov.
No matter what was happening, Barnes remained hopeful that his opportunity was going to come. While the coaches didn’t know how to incorporate him, they told him to stay ready.
“They said, ‘Keep working hard. You always have to be ready to go in when it’s your time,’” Barnes said.
With support behind him, Barnes continued to bring his best effort, treating every practice like they were games. He got to improve his game by emulating other players like UCLA sophomore guard Jordan Adams on the scout team, which he called “a fun experience.”
Barnes said his work ethic derives from his father, Jake, who is a ProRodeo Hall-of-Famer and won seven world championships.
Jake motivated Barnes by telling him stories of how he worked to succeed in his own athletic career. For instance, Jake lost half of his thumb during a roping competition but still went on his career without it.
“If he can do it, I can’t quit on something, too,” Barnes said.
Barnes’ hard work slowly started to pay off. His teammates were taking note.
“He sprints every possession, sprints on every cut,” senior center Jordan Bachynski said. “The guy has a motor. I love playing with him.”
Finally, it was time for the coaches to start letting him play. Sendek insisted on the decision to use Barnes more wasn’t a result of Marshall’s injury. He said Barnes’ improvement was “moving rapidly” in practice, and the coaches were going to play him more anyway.
“He just kept playing better and better and harder and harder,” Sendek said. “Things just started to click and come together.”
Over the past five games, Barnes averaged 8.4 points and recorded 98 minutes — 16 less than what he logged all of last season.
“Since coach threw him out there and gave him a chance, he didn’t disappoint,” Carson said. “He’s always been a guy who could fill it up, and I told him, ‘Hey, we need more from you.’”
Barnes has stepped out of his limitation of only being a 3-point shooter. Even though 21 of his 27 shot attempts have been 3-pointers, Barnes has made a conscious effort to drive inside, which he said he’s spent a lot of time working on since coming to ASU.
Perhaps the biggest improvement he’s made, though, is his defense.
Barnes said he enjoys guarding the other teams’ best players every night. He defended junior guard Nick Johnson in the first game against UA. A week later, his assignment was Utah junior guard Delon Wright, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week at the time.
“I’ve been pleased with (Barnes) on defense more than anything,” Sendek said.
Barnes no longer practices on the scout team, and Sendek confirmed on Tuesday he will continue to see a lot of minutes off the bench. Barnes knows other teams will include him in scouting reports and that he’ll have less open looks.
But the only way to continue being effective is through the formula he’s stuck with all along — hard work.
“I feel if you just play hard and if you (work hard) on defense, it leads to playing well on offense,” Barnes said. “Just (need to) keep that up.”
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