- Little has changed in Ames over the years, but everything has changed for Harrison Barnes. How did the small town in Iowa prepare the Mavs star for the NBA?
“You don’t belong here.” Harrison Barnes, an impossible 14-year-old, had drop-stepped his way into a basket-jolting dunk on the first day of freshman practice. That night, his mother was informed of the damage he had done. Changes were made, permissions granted, and on Day Two, Barnes was informed in no uncertain terms that a team of underclassmen was no place for him. “You don’t belong here,” Ames High basketball coach Vance Downs told him. That messaged proved to be extraordinarily true.
One of the nation’s top prospects, after all, doesn’t belong in the eighth-largest town in Iowa. The state itself had produced but a modest handful of NBA players with any staying power. Yet Barnes was the subject of a cosmic coincidence—not only in that he would buck incredible odds to make it all the way from Ames to the NBA lottery, but that he turned out to be one of two players to do so in the same high school class. As Barnes threatened to tear down the rim, a scrawny, 5’9″ kid named Doug McDermott tried to find his place below it. Each proved to be an anomaly. Together, they represented an astonishing twist of chance and fate.
Consider this: When Barnes and McDermott were seniors in 2010, roughly one in every 16,000 non-collegiate residents of Ames would go on to be an NBA lottery pick. “As time goes,” Downs said, “it becomes unfathomable that that really happened at one small high school in Ames, Iowa.” And all that did—the state titles, the back-to-back undefeated seasons, and the media blitz unlike anything Ames had ever seen—began with Barnes.