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Scott Howard-Cooper

From squaring up on his shot to footwork, Harrison Barnes wants to emulate Hall of Famer Jerry West.
Garrett W. Ellwood/ Ken Regan/NBAE via Getty Images

Barnes seeks out priceless basketball knowledge from West

Posted Jul 20 2012 8:37AM

LAS VEGAS -- Mr. Clutch didn't want the ball.

"It's not a big deal," Jerry West said, and then repeated it several other times with similar phrasing.

Except that it is.

Harrison Barnes, the Warriors rookie, approached West, the Warriors executive board member, at a function for a few dozen sponsors and luxury suite holders Saturday night at Mandalay Bay after a Golden State Summer League game against the Nuggets. A 20 year old and one of the all-time greats.

Barnes was direct.

"I walked up to him and said, 'When are you going to teach me some of your tricks, man?' "

West laughed. That led to a basketball conversation. And that led to West, the Hall of Famer, still searing with competitiveness at age 74, gladly agreeing.

The Logo is Barnes' unofficial tutor. So, yeah, it is a big deal.

"I've seen his highlights," Barnes said. "I've looked him up. He does a great job of when he comes off shots, he's always square. He's always able to get his shot off. He had a nice looking shot. That's something I'm going to try to take from him, his ability to get to the basket and his ability to square up and get by guys."

Maybe they will meet somewhere around Warriors headquarters in Oakland. Maybe Barnes will go to Los Angeles, West's home base. The where, and the when, has not been decided.

But it will happen. Barnes initiated the opportunity, West embraced it.

It is an unlikely pairing in that West has not been asked often in his years as an executive with the Lakers and, since May 2011, the Warriors as an advisor on basketball matters while making appearances on behalf of the marketing side. By the time Barnes was born, West, calling it a career in 1974, had been retired for 18 years. An entire generation had been raised through high school in between. There is definitely a time-machine element to this.

Barnes appreciates history as if it was part of him, though. Which it is. His name is Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes. It was 1992 and his mom, a big fan, decided a nod to Michael Jordan was in order, and one of the middle names became a tribute.

Approaching someone retired for 38 years simply did not seem unusual.

"I certainly don't want to make a big deal out of this," West said. "Our coaches are working with him. One of the things that I tried to talk to him about was efficiency of your footwork, particularly as an offensive player. I tried to talk to him about a straight line-driver instead of driving in circles, which makes degree of difficulty of shots much more difficult. And, more importantly, footwork. How to stop correctly. A lot of that is just simple things that I think he'll pick up very, very quickly.

"He approached me and I told him that I'd be more than happy to try to show him some of the things I felt were important," West said. "I talked about pivoting. About how the degree of difficulty in shots is what you don't want. You want to cut down on the degree of difficulty. He's got a 40-vertical jump. He just jumps over people. But that won't do it. I certainly don't want to over-emphasize my role in anything that he might want to do because he's just an exceptional talent, a player who's got an enormous future.

"If I can be of any help to him, then certainly I want to try. I've agreed to meet with him and go over some things, talk about simple little things," West said. "I told him I just don't want to be someone who's a pitch-back machine to him. I want him to learn to do things off the dribble, learn to create off the dribble with more efficient footwork, really. That's all it amounts to. It's just little simple things. Kids that are gifted, sometimes they can slip in those areas because they just get by on their physical ability. Oh my gosh, he's such a gifted kid. On top of it, he certainly wants to get better. That's my impression of him. I think you're going to see a player who gets better and better as his career goes on."

The work so far has been, Barnes said, "to pick his brain a little bit." That will expand to working on the court, where he may challenge West to a game of H-O-R-S-E.

"He was known for being Mr. Clutch, but I've hit a few shots myself," Barnes said. "I might do a little trash talking in there as well."

This is getting good. And, yes, this is a big deal.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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