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On Harrison Barnes, Part 2

I ended my column today by saying that I didn’t think Harrison Barnes made the right choice when he decided to go to UNC. Here’s why:

If we think about the way Barnes handled his recruitment, his commitment ceremony on ESPNU, and his choice of reading materials (an article reported that his summer reading list included Secrets of the Mind of a Millionaire: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth), it becomes clear that he wants to make a lot of money and that he plans to do so by building a Harrison Barnes brand. Barnes did all he could to stay in the spotlight and build that brand during his recruitment – blogging about his trips, delaying the moment of decision until he called Roy Williams on Skype – and it worked beautifully. Everyone and their mother (and my girlfriend) was talking about Harrison Barnes.

And right now, the Barnes brand is kind of on fire. When you think of Harrison Barnes, you think of a kid who is smart, religious, mature, technologically-savvy, grounded, and hard-working. And as long as Barnes remains in the spotlight and avoids the criminal justice system, that brand is going to make him a lot of money.

But the key is staying in the spotlight, and Barnes’ problem is that he chose the wrong school at which to do that.

For whatever reason, anything that happens at Duke seems to matter more to the national media than anywhere else (cf. The Duke Lacrosse Saga). Sweet sixteen-loser Duke is on national television 27 times this year; defending national champion North Carolina, 22 times. For comparison’s sake the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers appear on national TV 25 times apiece.

I don’t actually think that the extra five televised games really make that much of a difference, but for whatever reason, there’s something about former Blue Devils that allows them to stay in the national spotlight. Jason Williams and Jay Bilas call games on ESPN; Brian Davis and Christian Laettner bought up most of Durham and then tried to buy the Memphis Grizzlies; Shane Battier is Moneyball author Michael Lewis’ new darling; J.J. Redick jokes about dropping a rap album and it blows up on the Internet. Hell, when back-up point guard Greg Paulus was trying to figure out if he’d play football this year, it made the front page of I don’t remember anyone getting that worked up about Bobby Frasor’s future.

The point is that a college basketball player can build his brand while in school as much or more than he can in the NBA – as long as he chooses the right school, has enough charisma, and stays there long enough. At Duke, the national media would’ve turned Barnes into the program savior, the guy who will lead Duke back to glory. Maybe some enterprising Chronicle staffer would’ve written 5,000 words about his life. At Carolina, he’s just another athletic swingman. Rashad McCants says “Hi” from the NBA unemployment line.

If it turns out that he’s actually the second coming of Michael Jordan, it won’t matter how much charisma he has or where he goes to school – he’ll make his millions selling Hanes and Nike. But if he’s not, then he’ll need all the help he can get building that Barnes brand, and coming to Duke would’ve been a good start.

So hey, it’s his loss.


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