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Barton looking to soar even higher at Verizon Slam Dunk

Victory against loaded field would provide the Nuggets guard an exclamation point on what has been breakout campaign

POSTED: Feb 9, 2016 5:32 PM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker


Will Barton says he plans on doing 'a little practicing' before he gets to work in the Verizon Slam Dunk.

"I remember it clearly," Will Barton is saying.

It's a Sunday afternoon in New York City, and Barton is in the Denver Nuggets locker room about an hour before the Nuggets are scheduled to take on the New York Knicks in a Super Bowl Sunday matinee special. The Verizon Slam Dunk is one week away, and as Barton is taking part, he has been asked if he happens to recall the first time he ever dunked a basketball.

Turns out, your first slam dunk isn't something someone takes lightly.

"I was 14, going into my 9th grade year," Barton picks up the narrative. "It was that summer. We were playing pickup ball outside, I got on the fast break, went up and did a one hand, basic dunk. I was so happy, man."

He smiles now, replaying the memory.

"I had tried before," Barton says. "I would always try. I didn't think at that time I would make it, because I had tried so many times. But that time it went in. I was just happy."

For Barton, rising to the occasion is nothing new. Take this season, for example. After two years at the University of Memphis, Barton was selected 40th overall in the 2012 Draft by the Portland Trail Blazers. As he approached the end of his second season in Portland, Barton was traded to Denver at the trade deadline in 2015. This season in the Mile High City, Barton has posted a career year: Through the first 52 games of the season, Barton is averaging a career-best 15.6 points per game.

Barton, who recently turned 25 years old, credits his breakout campaign in part to being in the right place at the right time.

"It's the opportunity," he says. "Giving me the chance to play, the coaching staff trusting me, teammates trusting me. They're just telling me to go out there, be aggressive and play my game. So that's really the only difference, just getting the opportunity. And they really believe in my game.

Will Barton's Dunk Highlights

Check out Will Barton's amazing in-game dunking ability from this season.

"I've definitely been ready for this moment," Barton continues. "Been preparing myself, working hard, keeping faith, praying, talking to God. It's a long time coming, and I'm glad it's here. And I'm just trying to take advantage of it. I just want to keep playing well and just make sure we win games at the same time. I'm trying to do anything I can to contribute to wins."

For the rebuilding Nuggets, wins have been difficult to come by this season. But Barton will have a chance to take home some hardware this weekend in Toronto, when he takes part in his first dunk contest.

Barton's total recall apparently doesn't extend to dunk contests, as he can't recall exactly which NBA dunk contest was the first he ever saw. ("I've been watching those since I was a kid. I mean, I watched the re-runs. I was too young to understand it.") But since throwing down that first dunk roughly a decade ago, Barton has been in a couple of other dunk contests, including some in high school and a couple in college at midnight madness events. He counts Michael Jordan, Vince Carter and Julius "Dr. J" Erving among his all-time favorite dunkers.

This will be Barton's first appearance at All-Star Saturday Night, and he's got some serious competition. Last year's winner, Minnesota's Zach LaVine, will return to defend his title, and other newcomers include a pair of wildly athletic big men, Detroit's Andre Drummond and Orlando's Aaron Gordon.

While Barton says he plans on doing "a little practicing" before the main event, he's counting on the excitement surrounding the big night to help him reach new heights.

"I'm more of an in-the-moment jumper," Barton says. "Like, once my adrenaline gets going and I see the crowd. If I went to practice dunking right now I won't be jumping as high because I have no adrenaline, and I've been playing a lot of games, and I'm playing a lot."

No matter how the dunk contest turns out for Barton, it will be hard to top the regular season he's having for the Nuggets. After years of putting in work, Barton seems to have found an NBA home.

And the contest is Barton's chance to put an exclamation point on a tremendous season.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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