More talented writers have given their thoughts on Harrison Barnes, and I wouldn’t be offended in the least if you read Moneyballer or Brand Gone Bust or Death of a Salesman instead of my next few paragraphs. Actually, you should definitely read those articles before any of the below. I loved each writers’s take and would like to expand on the subject by offering up my suggestion that Harrison Barnes get in a time machine and go back and pick Duke. Don’t mistake this for me writing that I like watching Barnes play or even would want him to go to Duke, but it is clear that his brand equity would have increased had he played for Coach K.
When Barnes talks about going to Carolina to build his brand, he might as well have been Coach K talking about American Express. Couldn’t you see Barnes saying “I don’t look at myself as basketball player. I look at myself as a leader who happens to play basketball.” It is also clear that Barnes’s life is not about playing games. He could have said all the stuff he said about building a brand at Duke and it would have been a perfect fit. In branding it is imperative that your company’s message connects with people’s perceptions of your company. Business = Branding = Coach K/Barnes.
Barnes missed that opportunity by picking UNC. He probably thought he was picking the easy choice considering they had just won the title and generally people have a more favorable opinion of UNC than Duke. Also, there was the Jordan factor that played a big role in his decision. What he didn’t realize is that UNC didn’t fit his style of play. UNC has done an incredible job developing post players (Zeller, Hansbrough, Wallace, Davis, Jamison, etc) and athletic guards (Carter, Lawson, Stackhouse, etc). There haven’t been as many success stories with shooting guards with limited athleticism and a reliance on the jump shot.
Do you know one school that does seem to churn those out in abundance? Duke. Langdon, Redick, Battier, Curry, Scheyer, etc. Duke does an excellent job with 6-2 to 6-5 shooting guards who like to shoot. Barnes is 6-8 and more of a small forward, but still I think Duke would have been able to handle that development better than UNC.
Also, if Barnes really wanted to build his brand he would have looked at the type of team he was joining. He would have fit in well with the 2011 Duke team – a starting lineup of Irving, Smith, Barnes, Singler and Mason Plumlee would have started the year as a perfect fit. Then when Irving was injured it would have been easy to move Smith to Irving’s spot and insert Curry at the shooting guard. Last’s year Duke team could have used another small forward (Singler could play both forward positions) and this year’s team certainly could have used help at that position.
His legacy at Duke might never have matched what he imagined for himself, but it would have made a lot more sense. It was a better idea for branding and basketball reasons. His tone-deaf “all-business” talk probably would have had a lot of fans hate him, but it isn’t like he is living the high life now. I think that Barnes at Duke would just have been a natural fit, and I think a good brand manager would have advised Barnes to go with Duke.