College Basketball

Former UNC star Harrison Barnes warms up for title defense after short summer

UNC alum Harrison Barnes, right, shoots over ex-Kentucky player Aaron Harrison during a Sunday fundraiser .
UNC alum Harrison Barnes, right, shoots over ex-Kentucky player Aaron Harrison during a Sunday fundraiser . AP

Harrison Barnes, fresh off of an NBA championship in June with Golden State, tasked himself to recruit UNC basketball alumni for a UK-UNC Alumni charity game earlier this summer.

After confirming the game with UK coach John Calipari and UK, Barnes aimed to include former stars such as Rasheed Wallace and John Henson in Sunday’s charity game. Contracts and schedules did not make it possible, so he chalked the event up as a successful first try.

“Nobody has done that with universities,” Barnes said. “This was a test-run, see how we can improve the concept. We’ll try to incorporate other schools, like Duke, UK and UConn. But we want to do this again.”

Barnes said he is pushing to develop a yearly charity game for UNC alumni while raising money for charity, similar to Sunday’s event, which raised $1.1 million for charities related to UK and UNC, including a $50,000 donation to the University of North Carolina’s Children’s Hospital and a $200,000 donation for a National Basketball Hall of Fame trust fund in the name of late UNC coach Dean Smith.

“That’s a great testament from them, to give $200,000 as a donation,” he said, noting the UNC basketball team’s yearly relationship with the hospital.

UNC’s alumni did lose to the Kentucky pros on Sunday, but as Barnes — who had 39 points — put it, “we had some guys, and (UK) had all these draft picks.”

UK included 2015 first overall pick Karl-Anthony Towns, first-round picks Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles, and second-round picks Dakari Johnson, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison along with All-NBA center DeMarcus Cousins.

UNC’s starting five included 40-year-old Jerry Stackhouse. Barnes wants more time to load his roster with more talented alumni, and he said he wants a return game next year in Chapel Hill.

Calipari, who said that UK “might have to do” a return game, asked the fans in attendance, many of them clad in Kentucky blue, to give Barnes applause for his world championship in June. The last time Barnes stepped onto the Rupp Arena floor, Wildcats fans did not applaud Barnes or his teammates, and there was very little to smile about for any Tar Heel after Anthony Davis blocked John Henson’s shot at the buzzer.

“Some of the guys were talking about that in the locker room.” Barnes said. “You’re always going to remember the block. It always comes up when you’re talking about (that 2011-12 UNC team).”

In the modern day of athletics, players train almost year-round, and Barnes and the Warriors begin training camp on September 29. That means that July and August are the only months players have to themselves. Barnes took off two weeks “to help heal the bumps and bruises” before doing some cardio work to keep himself in shape.

Eventually, Barnes said he got back on the court whenever he came back from separate trips home to Iowa with some extra luggage — the Larry O’Brien Trophy. He showed the trophy off to his hometown in a parade, then brought it home a second time to show it off to family and friends.

Barnes and Warriors teammate James-Michael McAdoo — who played with Barnes at UNC and played in the charity game on Sunday — will bring the trophy to Chapel Hill on September 26, where they will be introduced during the Tar Heels’ football game against Delaware.

“This whole experience has been wonderful, from playing pickup (on Saturday night) to everything we did (on Sunday),” Barnes said. “Maybe Arizona can do it sometime too, with (Steve Kerr, Barnes’ coach with Golden State). I’d like that.”