Many college basketball fans had already heard of Canyon Barry before his College of Charleston Cougars visited their former Southern Conference rivals in Davidson on Jan. 1. Every major network had already run a story or broadcasted a feature on how the youngest of Golden State Warriors legend Rick Barry's five sons shoots free throws underhanded like his father.
Canyon was off to a solid start to his freshman campaign, averaging 10.1 points and 2.9 rebounds in 26.2 minutes per game for a 6-7 Charleston team. Then, just minutes into the Cougars' contest against the Wildcats, Barry slid over on defense to help on a big man that was rolling to the basket and jammed his right pinkie finger into the torso of a teammate, dislocating an important bone in his shooting hand.
"I knew right then I wasn't going to be able to play the rest of that game," Barry remembers. "I ran down the court to play the next possession, so I asked to call timeout and I ran off the court. It was depressing. Obviously you know you're going to miss some games, but because you only have so many as an athlete, you want to be able to play as many as you can."
The injury sidelined Barry for 8 games, just halfway through the 6-6 guard's first season after red-shirting all of 2012-13, just like all four of his older brothers did.
"Barry's tend to develop later so it was good to get a year under my belt and kind of get used to the speed of the college game, having extra time in the weight room, getting bigger and stronger, physically," Barry said. "Just getting used to the new college-style of basketball, I think it really benefitted my brothers and it's helped me too."
Because while the national spotlight has been pointed at Barry due to his unorthodox shooting motion at the line, the Cougars brought him to Charleston to be a dynamic offensive catalyst that a defensive-minded program desperately needs after graduating Andrew Lawrence last spring.
Rick Barry had four sons with his first wife Pam Connolly: Scooter, Jon, Brent and Drew. Scooter played on the Kansas Jayhawks' 1988 NCAA title team before playing 17 years of professional ball overseas. Jon and Drew played in college for Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech before having lengthy NBA careers with Drew also playing overseas for several seasons. Jon played 15 years in the NBA before joining ESPN as an NBA analyst in 2006. Brent played college ball at Oregon State before embarking on a 15-year NBA career of his own, winning two NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and 2007 and the 1996 NBA Dunk Contest.
Canyon's mother is Rick's third wife, Lynn Barry, the most decorated women's basketball player in the history of another Colonial Athletic Association member, William & Mary. Over her four-year career in which she was a starter and captain each season, Lynn scored exactly 1,500 points in only 82 games and is the only Tribe women's athlete to have her jersey number, No. 22, retired.
Even with his impressive lineage, Canyon went essentially unnoticed in high school. The youngest of Rick's children, he also has a daughter named Shannon, was barely recruited to play his family's game at the next level until Cremins, then the head coach of Charleston, learned of Jon and Drew's little brother in 2011.
"He contacted me right away and once he did we started talking," Canyon says. "One of the assistant coaches [at Charleston] at the time, Andrew Wilson, him and Bobby came out and visited, they watched me play a game, they came to my house. Right from the start, it was a good connection with Bobby because my family has a good relationship with him, we've known him for so long."
Canyon took an official visit to The College, saw downtown Charleston, the campus and the facilities and fell in love with the place.
"Charleston's such a great city and the school was a good academic fit for me and I also love the coaches and the basketball here," he says. "The history of the school and coach Cremins' history with the program. It was great."
Barry signed his national letter of intent to play for Cremins at Charleston on Nov. 7, 2011.
After taking a leave of absence 11 games into the 2011-12 season, Cremins was replaced by interim coach Mark Byington. Once the season ended, The College signed former Tulsa head coach Doug Wojcik to a five-year deal in April of 2012. Barry kept is commitment to the Cougars and came to campus for his first academic year in Charleston, in the fall of 2012. Fittingly enough, Wojick, the all-time leader in career assists in CAA history during his four-year career at Navy, and the Cougars announced they would be leaving the Southern Conference for the Colonial at the start of the 2013-14 season on Nov. 30, 2012, allowing Barry to hoop in the league his mother once torched.
"The CAA's a better league, has tougher competition night in and night out which is good to develop your basketball skills," Barry says. "I think there's definitely been an adjustment period this year with the team, just seeing the level of the teams night in and night out, you really have no nights off in the CAA."
While the Cougars have struggled at times this season, Charleston is just 14-17 overall and 6-10 in the CAA, Wojick's team has been as advertised: excellent on the defensive end. The College ranked tops in the conference in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 100.1 points per 100 possessions, per kenpom.com. Barry feels he did his part in helping the Cougars successfully limit their opponents.
"I think I've done well defensively," Barry says. "It's a big adjustment from high school to college playing defense, playing bigger, stronger, faster better athletes who are more skilled. Towards the end of the season, I sat down with my coaches, we watched film and worked on defense and I think I've gotten a lot better defensively."
But again, Charleston needs him most on the offensive end. For Barry, excelling at scoring is something that requires patience and smart play - virtues he learned from sitting out all of last season and his extended stretch on the sidelines this year.
"It was really different sitting on the bench and watching," he says. "You see the game from a different pace that's a lot slower than when you're playing in it. It seems like everything happens so fast when you're on the court.
"The biggest takeaway was probably to slow down and try to evaluate the situation when you're playing. Sometimes that's probably my biggest problem, getting that rush on the court. When you watch from the side, it's easier to see everything that's going on, how the other team is playing defense and try to find the weak points to attack from there."
Canyon constantly gets texts from his older brothers following each game, assessing how he can help take the Charleston offense, and sequentially his own, to the next level.
"We have a good relationship. I always call them if I need any basketball advice," Canyon says. "They want me to stay aggressive. Sometimes offensively they feel like I'll fade in and out of the game and I need to be competitive on the court at all times and even if my shots not going in, I need to find a way to impact the game at all times in a lot of ways."
After returning from his pinkie injury, Canyon struggled to find his footing on the court, only scoring 4 points on 4 shots in 18 minutes over the course of his first two games back. But over his and his team's last 7 regular season games, Barry has turned it on, averaging 12.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 27.3 minutes per game and shooting a blistering 79.3 percent at the line with his granny shot. He even capped off the regular season with a 27-point outburst vs. Delaware on Mar. 1.
"It was the first game back where I really felt like myself after my broken finger," Canyon says of the finale. "I was really happy with my effort and my teammates did a great job playing defense and got me the ball in positions to put it in the hole."
His coach has seen much improvement from when Canyon first set foot on campus back in the fall of 2012.
"He's improved quite a bit. Canyon's the kind of guy that's really talented in a lot of areas," Wojick says. "I think what he's done since he's gotten here is focus even more on basketball."
But 27 points?
"I don't know if I ever thought he was going to be able to get 27. He's just a young kid, he's getting stronger and he has shown great flashes," Wojick says. "So when he goes out for a month, he's a guy that can certainly put the ball in the basket - which is the area we're mostly deficient. I am proud of him. He got his own shot, he got to the free throw line, an area that's a little bit troublesome for us. He made his free throws and then he made plays for other people. He's probably playing the best basketball of the season now."
The opposition around the conference is starting to take notice as well.
"I think he can be a really, really good player down the line in this league," Delaware head coach Monte Ross said. "That's one of the things in talking to Doug after the game, is that they really need him to be a really dynamic scorer because they struggle sometimes to score. I thought he did that for them on Saturday, so I think the future is very bright for Canyon."
With the 2014 CAA Tournament kicking off tomorrow, the Cougars are entering their first as a member of the league. With them, they'll bring Barry, a strong defense and a real shot to make some noise, despite only being the No. 6 seed out of the 9 teams competing. After all, the Colonial has been known to produce plenty of "rock fights."
At the conference's awards banquet tonight, Barry is a lock to earn a selection to this year's CAA All-Rookie team. After finishing the season second in scoring amongst the league's freshmen and already having a Nov. 18 Rookie of the Week honor under his belt, Barry doesn't have much to worry about this evening. Interestingly, he'll be matched up with the likely CAA Rookie of the Year in William & Mary's Omar Prewitt when the Cougars take on the Tribe in the first round on Saturday.
But the contest is much bigger than a matchup of two kids who both can't legally drink. There's All-Conference talent in William & Mary's Marcus Thornton and Barry's teammate in Willis Hall who'll probably earn All-CAA 2nd Team honors. The game is also a matchup of the league's most high-scoring offense against its stingiest defense.
"Our team really focuses on defense, we try to check people night in and night out," Barry says. "Even though we lost, playing against the best team in the conference in Delaware tough, it tells us that we can beat anyone and have a good shot at winning this thing."
Barry will have a huge say in whether Charleston can pull off a big upset on Saturday. Again, he's essential to the Cougars' offensive attack. Wojick says its "unfair" to expect 27 points out of him, but you never know what can happen on a big stage.
Regardless of Charleston's outcome in this weekend's tourney, the future is bright for the Cougars. Along with Barry, freshman guard Joe Chealey had a strong debut year, junior guard Anthony Stitt is a complete player and 6-9 junior forward Adjehi Baru is one of the best rim protectors in the conference.
But even with all that returning talent next season, Wojick's team's success will be determined by the youngest of Rick Barry's sons, the only of which to carry on his father's free throw legacy, a physics major with a 4.0 GPA enrolled in the school's honors college, a fantastic ping pong and tennis player and a Taylor Swift fanatic.
"I think he's really, really improved," Wojick says. "For us, it bodes well for the future because he's a guy that could be like what we're playing against - Devon Saddler, Davon Usher, Frantz Massenat, Chris Fouch - guys that can put the ball in the basket at a pretty high level."
Sure the kid shoots free throws kinda funny, but he's also one of the CAA's next big stars.