Rick Barnes has been a Division I men’s basketball head coach since 1987 when he landed his first head coaching gig at George Mason. Since then he has coached at Providence, Clemson, Texas and Tennessee and has mentored some all-time talents like Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Admiral Schofield.
Barnes joined this week’s episode of March Madness 365 to talk about how COVID-19 might affect this year’s basketball season, social justice within collegiate athletics and broke down the top players he’s coached over his career in ten different categories to form one ultimate Rick Barnes-created player.
This edition of March Madness 365 also featured Penn’s Jelani Williams as he discusses what basketball might look like in the Ivy League after they postponed all sports until 2021. He also talks about his father’s initiative “A Long Talk About The Uncomfortable Truth” — an organization devoted to talking about race within college basketball.
Here are Rick Barnes’ career top players in ten different categories:
The Quarterback & The Captain — T.J. Ford (Texas guard, 2001-2003)
Rick Barnes was not shy with his praise for his former guard who lands as not only Barnes’ all-time playmaker but also his ultimate captain.
“For the same reason if you had asked me why he’s the captain is because he had the ability to make everybody understand exactly what they did well and if they did what they did well, we would be an outstanding team,” Barnes said. “He understood how to put everybody in a position to make them flourish.”
Ford’s playmaking and leadership abilities helped push the Longhorns to a No. 1 seed in the 2003 NCAA tournament where they made it to the Final Four. The Texas guard averaged 12.9 points, 8.0 assists and 2.1 steals per game during his two years in Austin.
The Clutch Gene — Brian Boddicker (Texas forward, 2000-2004)
Brian Boddicker lands here as Rick Barnes’ ultimate clutch player. He was also a part of that 2003 Final Four team. Barnes told Andy Katz a story of when he took Boddicker out of a game against rival Oklahomaonly to be convinced to put him back in by T.J. Ford — ultimately leading Texas to victory.
“I kid you not in a matter of 40 seconds or so, Brian Boddicker hit three straight threes. Turned the whole momentum around in the game,” Barnes said. “We end up winning the game and getting the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.”
Barnes also considered Clemson’s Terrell McIntyre and Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner for this category.
The Athletic Wonder — Yves Pons (Tennessee forward, 2017-present)
Yves Pons was the first to come to mind for Barnes for his ultimate athlete. Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Damion James were also considered for this category.
“Yves Pons … is as athletic as any player that we’ve had,” Barnes said. “His athleticism and what he does is pretty phenomenal.”
Pons averaged 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game this past season. The Tennessee forward is still deciding whether he will come back for his senior season. He entered the draft back in April but left the door open to return to Tennessee. Student-athletes have until Aug. 3 to withdraw from the draft and retain college eligibility.
The Bucket-Getter — Kevin Durant (Texas forward, 2006-2007)
No surprise here. One of the most prolific scorers in basketball history lands as Rick Barnes’ ultimate bucket-getter.
“The best bucket-getter ever, Kevin Durant,” Barnes said.
Durant averaged 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game during his one year at Texas. Durant was also considered for “the captain” category. Barnes also discussed another NBA player for the bucket-getter position in P.J. Tucker. Tucker played for Texas from 2003-2006.
The Shooter — A.J. Abrams (Texas guard, 2005-2009)
Barnes didn’t hesitate when asked for his best shooter.
“No question, A.J Abrams,” Barnes said. “Everybody I ask that’s what they said, that was the answer of everybody — A.J. Abrams.”
Abrams played for four years under Barnes and scored nearly 2,000 career points for the Longhorns — a stat that’s even more impressive considering that Abrams shared the court with the likes of Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Texas guard was also lights out from three shooting a career 40-percent clip.
The Lockdown Defender & The Glue Guy — Royal Ivey (Texas guard, 2000-2004)
Royal Ivey is the third player from Texas’ 2003 Final Four squad to land on this list and the second player to be chosen for two different categories. Ivey played under Barnes for four years and was his best defender and glue guy.
“Over a four-year career, I’m not sure anyone was better than Royal Ivey,” Barnes said. “Royal was a guy, where he came in and where he started — just phenomenal.”
Barnes also considered Texas’ Avery Bradley and Clemson’s Greg Buckner for his best defender and Grant Williams for his ultimate glue guy.
The Dirty Worker — Damion James (Texas forward, 2006-2010)
Damion James lands here as Barnes’ player who could get under the basket, gobble up rebounds and do the dirty work. James was another guy who played for Barnes for four years.
“Damion James, without question,” Barnes said. “For a guy his size, that’s what he wanted to do — he had a great passion.”
James averaged 9.3 rebounds per game but could also put the ball in the basket with an average of 13.5 points per game during his four years with Texas. Barnes also mentioned Chris Mihm, Yves Pons, James Thomas, Kyle Alexander and Tristan Thompson for this category.
The Coach — Grant Williams (Tennessee forward, 2016-2019)
Barnes taps Grant Williams as his coach on the floor.
“From a purely a basketball understanding, (he) could remember everything from every position and understand what you’re trying to do — Grant Williams would win that category,” Barnes said.
Williams, a consensus All-American and two-time SEC Player of the Year, led the Volunteers to a share of the SEC regular-season title and a No. 2 seed in the 2019 NCAA tournament. The Tennessee forward averaged 15.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game during his four-year stint in Knoxville. Outside of Williams, Barnes also mentioned T.J. Ford for this category.