Suns News

Barron's Noble Pursuit

Barron was signed when Robin Lopez went down with a sprained knee.
(Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images)
By Stefan Swiat,
Posted: Dec. 7, 2010

There is a famous aphorism that says that people live up to their names. Luckily for the Suns' newest addition, one would be hard-pressed to find a more regal name than Earl Barron.

But one's character and destiny is defined by action and when Barron was confronted with the greatest gut-check moment of his NBA career, he couldn’t have been more nobler in his response.

Despite averaging 11.7 points, 11 rebounds and 33.1 minutes in seven games for the Knicks last season, Barron didn’t find himself on anyone’s roster at the beginning of this season. He didn’t even receive an invitation to someone’s training camp.

On opening night, he wasn't on TNT. A few weeks into the season, he was still spending his free time poring over NBA rosters and box scores, seeing which teams he might be able to assist.

Like many in today’s economy, Barron found himself at home, waiting for a phone call for work. The proverbial rubber had begun meeting the road.

With no calls from the NBA and just a few informal workouts with teams under his belt, Barron started getting some job offers. But they weren’t from anyone in the NBA, they were from teams based overseas.

Like many other businesses, the NBA is an operation that functions on buzz. The longer a player stays out of the sight of the NBA, the more he stays out of the minds of front office executives.

As someone who had bounced around from playing in the NBA, overseas and in the D-League, no one knew this better than Barron. So with the proposition of earning money to play abroad presented itself and the dream of getting back into the NBA began fading away, Barron came to a fork in the road.

Should he take the “sure thing” or have faith that the NBA would come through? Instead of living on practicality, Barron decided to live on a prayer.

“I thought about it long and hard and I prayed about it,” Barron said. “I was hoping that a team would come calling soon because I’m not crazy. I’m not going to say, ‘Forget it, I’m not going to not take all the money they were offering overseas with some great teams and some good money.'”

So despite concrete offers from teams in China and Israel that had firm signing deadlines attached, Barron allowed those opportunities to expire. He stood his ground and kept working out on his own in Memphis.

A former Memphis Tiger, he would rise daily and head over the team’s facilities to put himself though his own personally-designed “training camp.” The 7-footer would put himself through a daily three- to four-hour workout that included weightlifting, treadmill running, sprinting on the court, shooting, stretching and maybe some 5-on-5 with the college players or other local pros.

“There were times when I thought, this may be worthless, but deep down I knew that if a team did call I had to be strong and in great shape,” Barron said. “I wanted my body to be ready like I did go through training camp and that I had been with a team for a while.”

In addition to that training, Barron added ladder drills, agility drills, suicides and box jumps to his routine to make it even more challenging.

“It pushed my mind and body into sort of a training camp-mode because a lot of the stuff was high-intensity,” he said. “I’m a guy that’s going to push myself because I’ve been so many places. I know how hard you have got to work and how great of a condition you have to be in to go somewhere.”

When Phoenix lost starting center Robin Lopez to a sprained knee on November 14, that hard work would pay off. Recalling Barron’s performance during an informal workout on October 22, the Suns front office and coaching staff thought that he could prove to be an invaluable replacement down low.

The 29 year old signed a deal and hopped on a flight to join the team at the beginning of its four-game, East-Coast road trip. Barron would make his Suns debut the next night in Miami.

“For what we want to do and how we want to do things, he was a pretty good fit,” Suns Head Coach Alvin Gentry said. “That may not be true for all teams, but for us, he’s got a little length, toughness and aggressiveness that we needed.”

After collecting four points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 10 minutes against Denver last Sunday, Gentry decided to try him in the starting lineup against the Warriors last Thursday.

“We started Earl because we thought that it would give us a little more size and a little more activity," Gentry said. "We were struggling in rebounding and I think he’s helped in that department.”

Since being inserted into the starting lineup, the Suns have gone 3-0. In addition, Barron has shut down whoever he’s guarded.

Against the Warriors, he limited Andris Biedrins, the eighth-best rebounder in the league, to just four points and three rebounds. In his second game as a starter, he held Indiana’s Roy Hibbert (14th-best rebounder in the NBA), to eight points and one rebound.

When he matched up against Washington’s JaVale McGee, who came into Sunday ranked 16th in the league on the boards, Barron only allowed McGee to collect two points and six caroms.

“I just try to make it tough on my man, especially the big guys that are scoring in the post,” Barron said. “I try to make it hard for them to catch it and when they do get it, they’re too tired to make a move.”

Although Barron trained diligently for this moment, there’s an enormous difference between being in-shape and in game-shape. Furthermore, there’s also a sizable difference between game-shape and “Suns-shape.”

Gentry likes Barron's size and activity.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images)
From all of the effort he’s exerting on defense, Barron said that doesn’t even want to roll to the basket at times. He’d prefer to just pick-and-pop and catch his breath in the process.

“I’ll definitely start making some shots and stop bricking free throws once I get into game-shape,” he said. “I’ll be able to finish more.

“But I’m just working hard and not trying to think about makes and misses. The only thing I’m focusing on now is defense and rebounding.”

Much like Jarron Collins a year ago, Barron's size and presence in the middle is not only valuable as a screener for the guards, but as a spacer for the Suns’ shooters.

When he rolls to the basket, he opens up the perimeter for the Suns' three-point shooters to take aim. Center Channing Frye has already seen the difference.

“Earl is doing a great job of rolling to the basket,” he said. “You’re going to have to give up a layup or something (if you don’t guard him). So something is going to be open.”

Adjusting to whatever situation he’s been in has been the lone constant for Barron in his basketball career. After signing to play for University of Memphis Head Coach Johnny Jones, he was replaced shortly afterwards by John Calipari, a coach who never recruited him.

Instead of transferring like some of his teammates, Barron stuck it out and graduated a Tiger in 2003 with a degree in business management. Although he self-admittedly had an inconsistent career at Memphis, he left the school as its all-time leader in charges taken and ninth on its all-time blocks list.

“It was like a rollercoaster ride,” he recalled. “Plus, we were so talented; there was no room for error. We had stacked teams.”

Barron started 15 of his 26 games as a senior, averaging 7.9 points, a career-high 5.5 rebounds and one block in 21.3 minutes. He ranked ninth in Conference USA in free-throw percentage, while helping lead Memphis to an NCAA Tournament berth.

After graduating, Barron split time between playing in the D-League and playing overseas in Turkey and the Philippines. During the 2005-06 season, Barron caught on with the Miami Heat, appearing in 82 games for them over the next three seasons.

Then after stints playing in China and Italy, Barron resurfaced with the Iowa Energy last season. Determined to get back into the NBA, Barron averaged 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds for the best team in the D-League.

His production landed him a seven-games deal with the Knicks, where he also averaged a double-double, including an 18-rebound outing against Boston. Despite those impressive stats, Barron remained unsigned all offseason, until the Suns came a calling.

While he thought he would probably earn some playing time, he never thought he’d be starting, especially after just two practices.

“I tell everyone that things happen for a reason,” Barron said. “Things didn’t go as I wanted them to this summer, but I’m here now and things are working out so well. So even if I could (go back and) change it, I probably wouldn’t change anything.”

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