Suns’ Barnes Had Tough Times After Mother Passed Away

by Jeramie McPeek
VP, Digital

By Jerry Brown
East Valley Tribune
Oct. 15, 2008

Most of Leandro Barbosa's teammates can only imagine what he's been going through as he kept a two-week vigil at a Brazilian hospital with his seriously ill mother.

But new teammate Matt Barnes can relate better than anyone - because he lived the same nightmare exactly a year ago. Within the space of a month, his mother and best friend, Ann, went from simply not feeling well to dying at the age of 52 in the space of a month.

Since Barbosa returned to the team Monday, Barnes has already put his arm around him and offered his ear, and a warning not to try to hold in his feelings and frustrations that surround dealing with a sick family member.

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"You only get one mom," Barnes said. "And she left us so quickly ... it was just so hard to deal with. My best piece of advice for Leandro is not to keep things bottled up. Last year, I kept everything in and it really beat me up."

Suddenly Barnes, who had played such a key role in Golden State's surprising playoff run and monumental upset of No.1-seeded Dallas a year earlier, wasn't the same player or person. His mom passed away on Nov. 1 and he missed the first part of the season to take part in the funeral and get family affairs in order.

"You're on the phone crying all day ... and then you're supposed to get it all together and play basketball at the highest level that night. It was just too much," he said. "I tried my best to keep playing hard and just put everything out of my mind, but it was so soon. Too soon."

His frustrations were evident. He led the league in flagrant fouls with five - two more than anyone else in the league.

"I'm an aggressive player. I always have been," he said. "But last year, it was more frustration with everything. I was torn up about my mom, I wasn't playing the way I wanted. I was having trouble with Nellie (coach Don Nelson) and it was an up and down season with playing time. (The flagrant) was the wrong way for that to come out. I'm definitely focusing on being more mentally strong on the court."

Counseling sessions helped Barnes channel his energy better. Leaving the Warriors - his mother was such a huge fan that she was buried in her own team jersey - and signing a one-year deal with the Suns also helped. And with new coach Terry Porter stressing aggressive defense, he quickly made an impact at training camp and will make his first start tonight when the Suns visit the Hawks in Atlanta.

Porter said the small-forward spot is the only one still open. And while his shooting has been erratic, Barnes collected 19 points and 13 rebounds in Utah last Thursday.

"I love his skills and he's such a versatile guy," Porter said. "He has the ability to defend four positions. He has the ability to put the ball on the floor, or stretch the floor with his shooting. And he's a good rebounder for his size."

After leading the second-teamers against the starters for the last two weeks, Barnes was enjoying seeing how the other half lives in practice this week.

"When you're in there with the first team you're with the best passer in the league (Steve Nash) and two of the best big guys in Shaq (O'Neal) and Amar