Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Forgotten Barry Brother

Drew Barry must be used to living in the shadows. Coming into Georgia Tech and redshirting as a freshman, he was an afterthought to higher-profile players like James Forrest, Martice Moore, Fred Vinson and Travis Best. Brothers Jon and Brent had more prolific NBA careers and hold better television analyst gigs (Drew does work for ESPNU). Drew might even lose the battle of most underappreciated Barry brother: Scooter helped Kansas win the NCAA title in 1988.

Drew Barry was one of the best players in the ACC in the 1990s, arguably the most talent-studded decade for that conference. He ended his collegiate days as Georgia Tech’s all-time assists leader, no small feat for a school with a tradition of elite point guards. Barry led the ACC in assists for three straight seasons despite sharing the backcourt with Best and then Stephon Marbury.

So it wasn’t often that Barry got to take center stage. But he did on Feb. 10, 1996, when Barry nailed nine three-pointers and scored 30 points in the Yellow Jackets’ 92-83 overtime victory over North Carolina at the Dean Smith Center.

Even in his senior season, Barry couldn’t carry the mantle of being Georgia Tech’s go-to option. Marbury came in as one of the most sought-after high school players ever, and Yellow Jackets coach Bobby Cremins handed the keys to the offense over to the phenom. Rugged power forward Matt Harpring also demanded a fair share of the offense.

A common thread among the descendents of basketball legends is an innate sense of the game and an ability to avoid forcing the action. Players like Luke Walton and the Barry boys let the game come to them. So even if Drew Barry was the third fiddle on Georgia Tech, he would have a hand in the outcome. Marbury was the nominal point guard, but Barry handled the ball a lot. Especially on fast-break opportunities, when the young Marbury had a tendency to go for the spectacular.

Barry sank his first three-pointer to give Georgia Tech a 21-19 lead. He knew the shot was good the moment it left his hands, and he went sprinting down court before the ball cleared the net. That first three must have tipped him off to how hot he was going to be in the game, because the normally pass-minded Barry was now finding open holes in UNC’s zone to launch long-range shots. He hit six three-pointers on seven attempts in the first 20 minutes. Several of the threes were taken from three feet behind the line, and all of them never hit anything but net.

The second half brought Barry a bit down to reality. He had a hard time staying in front of UNC point guard Jeff McInnis on defense, and Cremins benched him for a spell. Barry’s shooting also cooled. He shot 3 of 10 on three-pointers in the second half, but sank a big one in the final minute that helped force overtime. Barry got back to traditional game, handing out beautiful assists. In the second half, Barry led Marbury with three pinpoint passes that resulted in easy layups. Cremins called Barry the greatest passer he ever coached, high praise from a guy who had Best, Kenny Anderson and Mark Price as point guards.

Barry was drafted in the second round by Seattle (57th overall) in 1996 but was waived by the SuperSonics. He battled back to the league and lasted only 60 games with three teams in three seasons. He had the vision and offensive ability to play at the highest level, as evidenced by the 10 assists he had in a game for the Hawks as a rookie in 1997-’98, but the defense that so infuriated Cremins probably kept him from a longer tenure.

Jon Barry found a way to stick around in the NBA with a consistent jumper and gritty play, and Brent Barry had a lengthy career after transitioning from a rangy athlete to a cerebral role player. Their successful pro careers have clouded Drew’s accomplishments. He’s probably used to it.

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