Barnett finally filling ‘alpha dog’ role

Jordan Barnett sat out a year after transferring from Texas, but his emergence this season has inspired the previously dull Missouri men’s basketball team.
Missouri forward Jordan Barnett, 21, fires a three over Kentucky guard Malik Monk, 5, looking to cut the deficit in the first half at Mizzou Arena on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017.

Missouri basketball forward Jordan Barnett epitomizes the saying that good things come to those who wait.

The Tigers had Barnett, one of the top-100 high school class of 2014 players, sitting on their bench for two semesters. Barnett, a transfer from Texas, could not play during this period as a result of NCAA transfer rules.

Missouri waited to see Barnett play any basketball until after the fall 2016 semester, in December. But the wait for Barnett to play a substantive role took even longer.

Finally, good things came from Barnett in early February. The junior forward scored 17 points on Feb. 4 in a victory over Arkansas, followed by two 23-point efforts against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.

Barnett’s late-season surge has Missouri competing with — and defeating — Southeastern Conference opponents after the Tigers failed to beat nonconference opponents, such as Lipscomb and North Carolina Central, earlier in the season.

Missouri coach Kim Anderson hoped Barnett would play at a high level sooner, but he’s not surprised now.

“I told you all it would take him some time,” Anderson said after the victory over Vanderbilt.

Not only did Barnett have to overcome rustiness from time away from basketball, but he also had to overcome outside pressure. His teammate sophomore Kevin Puryear said the expectation for Barnett to perform right away might have weighed on him.

That expectation stems from Missouri’s previous exposure to Barnett, a St. Louis native. Barnett led Christian Brothers College High School to a Class 5 state title in 2014.

Anderson also knew what Barnett was capable of, which is why he was hard on him.

“He responded, and I think that is good,” Anderson said. “That is special.”

Aside from becoming more comfortable over time, Barnett’s mindset has shifted.

“I just think he is shooting with a little more confidence right now, which is really good,” sophomore guard Terrence Phillips said. “He has been locked in [recently].”

It’s not only his confidence that has changed, but also his assertiveness and aggression, Puryear, Anderson and Phillips said. They added that Barnett is often too nice on the basketball court.

“My coach and my teammates always get on me about that,” Barnett said. “It has been nice to be able to tap into [a mean streak] the last couple of games.”

Puryear and senior Russell Woods are the most vocal when Barnett does not assert himself on the court.

“He is a really nice guy sometimes, but it is slowly working its way out,” Puryear said.

No longer being too nice has made Barnett more than just a scoring threat. He also now asserts himself near the basket. In a three-point loss to Alabama, he grabbed 12 rebounds, eight of which came in the first half.

Barnett only scored five points in the game, but that is in part because of the Crimson Tide’s defensive strategy.

“He was a major focus … huge focus,” Alabama coach Avery Johnson said after the game. “We had probably five different stars by his name in the locker room. We thought if he continued to play like he was playing recently, we weren’t going to be in great shape.”

It’s because of Barnett’s recent play that Missouri has been competitive in six of its past seven SEC games.

“We definitely feed off his shot,” Puryear said. “It gives us a great deal of energy.”

Anderson does not see that stopping anytime soon. He believes Barnett will continue to improve into next year, as he gets completely comfortable.

“I think his potential is unlimited,” Anderson said.

Whether he reaches that potential remains to be seen. But if time has shown Missouri anything, it is that Barnett produces a strong return on investment.

“I think he is just coming along right now, being the alpha dog we need him to be,” Phillips said.

Edited by Eli Lederman | elederman@themaneater.com

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