April 10, 2012
By Bill Bennett
On the basketball court, as he was during his UCLA career (1998-2002) and now in his ninth NBA year and second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Matt Barnes is tough, dependable and productive.
Before committing to Steve Lavin's UCLA Bruins in 1998 and being part of the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, Barnes had to decide which sport he wanted to pursue at the collegiate level. At Del Campo HS in Sacramento, CA as a senior in 1997-98, he averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds, six blocked shots, five steals and three assists as a forward on the basketball team. Additionally, on the football field as one of the nation's top receivers, he had 58 receptions for 1,112 yards and led the nation with 28 touchdown catches. He earned prep All-America honors in both sports.
During Barnes' Bruin career UCLA averaged nearly 22 wins a season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament all four years, including trips to the `Sweet 16' in each of his last three seasons. He appeared in 121 career games and averaged 8.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists, totaling 1,066 career points.
Barnes was preparing for his professional basketball career while on the Bruin squad, as eight of his UCLA teammates would also go on to play in the NBA - Cedric Bozeman (`02-06), Baron Davis ('98-99), Dan Gadzuric (`99-02), Jason Kapono (`00-03), Jerome Moiso, Dijon Thompson ('02-05), Earl Watson ('98-01), and Ray Young ('99-03).
A second round selection by Memphis in the 2002 NBA Draft, Barnes was traded later that summer to Cleveland and spent the 2002-03 season with the Fayetteville (Ark.) Patriots in the NBA Development League. In 2003-04, he started the season with the Long Beach Jam in the ABA, then ended it playing 38 games with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Barnes is now an established nine-year NBA veteran, having played with the Sacramento Kings (2004-05), New York Knicks (2005), Philadelphia 76ers (2005-06), Golden State Warriors (2006-08; in 2007-08, Barnes and Baron Davis were team co-captains), Phoenix Suns (2008-09) and Orlando Magic (2009-10). Now in his second season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Barnes began the 2011-12 season starting 16 games and is now the Lakers' first player off the bench, playing in 55 games and leading all Lakers reserves in minutes (22.4), points (7.2) and rebounds (5.1) through games of April 7.
Q&A with Matt Barnes
As a senior in high school what factors helped you decide to pursue a collegiate basketball career instead of a football career?
"I really wanted to play both sports, but UCLA didn't want me to. I had already made my decision to go to UCLA at that point, so basketball became my sport of choice."
Wasn't there also a time early- on in your NBA career when you considered changing sports and trying out for the NFL?
"During my first four years in the NBA, I was with four different teams, and I didn't really get an opportunity to play. So I gave myself one season, I think it was back in 2006. I decided if it didn't work out I would try football."
When looking back on your UCLA career, what was the most important aspect of being a Bruin?
"The friendships you develop. Being at UCLA was one of the best times in my life. The Bruin experience, the college atmosphere and college basketball are great."
Are there some UCLA teammates, both in and out of the NBA, that you still stay in contact with and consider good friends?
"I still talk to Ray Young, Baron Davis, Jason Kapono, Earl Watson, Trevor Ariza. There are a handful of guys I still reach out to and stay in communication."
In college basketball, you normally played two games a week. In the NBA, particularly in this shortened season, there might be 4-5-6 games a week and all of them could be on the road. What's the adjustment from a college basketball season to an NBA season?
"I just had to learn to take care of my body and understand when to go out and when to get rest. I think early on that's something every rookie struggles to understand. But that's our job now."
You've played with eight teams during your nine-year NBA career. What are all the things a player has to go through when he contractually goes to another team or when he's traded to another team?
"Just to keep mentally strong. I had a lot of ups and downs and not a lot of opportunities early on. So I just had to believe in myself and stick with it and know that I was capable of playing in this league. I just fought my way through it until I had a chance to prove it."
Describe your season so far with the Lakers and give us some input about the Lakers as you and your teammates are about to approach the upcoming playoffs, being in first-place in the Western Conference Pacific Division (35-22).
"It's been a roller-coaster season, to say the least, with the coaching changes and losing guys, trading guys or picking up new guys. Right now, I think we're in a good place. We continue to improve, we have what it takes to get to the championship series, and we're excited about the upcoming playoffs."