LOS ANGELES -- Warriors forward Harrison Barnes was a basketball prodigy trapped in Iowa. He needed to get out there to make himself known. That required playing in tournaments in Illinois, Michigan and anywhere prep stars were balling.

But his single mom, though she had a good job at Iowa State University, couldn't afford those travel expenses. So they went on the grind together to make it happen.

Barnes, his mom and sister would stay after Cyclones games and collect all the recyclables they could carry. His mom would also set up meetings with local businesses, and Barnes would put on his Sunday best to give presentations to solicit donations.

"You learn something from those times," said Barnes, who became a top prep player in the nation and got a scholarship to North Carolina. "I appreciate those experiences because they build something in you. I know what it took to get me here."

That foundation came in handy for Barnes this year. He is bouncing back from a miserable campaign to become a key factor in the playoffs once again. For those who know Barnes, it was a matter of when, not if.

He struggles with confidence, presses too much and still has some skills he needs to work out. But adversity is nothing new to the 21-year-old.

And while the light at the end of the tunnel looked far away at times this season, he never doubted he would get there.


Advertisement

He always gets there, somehow. His natural talent and work ethic usually overcome his inexperience and tendency to beat himself up.

"It's one of those things where you can want it too much," said Warriors general manager Bob Myers, who passed on numerous offers to trade Barnes. "People forget he's so young. But he has such great work ethic and he goes about things the right way. Sometimes, you just have to bet on people."

Through the first four games of the playoffs, Barnes is averaging 10.5 points on 45.5 percent shooting with 4.8 rebounds in 24.5 minutes.

That's hardly the same Barnes who set the Bay Area on fire last year in the playoffs. But it's much easier on the eyes than the second-year forward who underwhelmed Warriors fans this season, when he averaged 9.5 points on 39.9 percent shooting and would go elongated stretches without you noticing he was in the game.

Oh, don't be mistaken. Barnes knows he wasn't good.

This season began on the wrong foot in July, when the Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala, crowding the perimeter. Then a strange foot injury kept him out early in the season. When he came back, it was off the bench, where he was surrounded by players who did not complement his game.

"When two bad games grows to four, grows to six, to a month, to two months," said Barnes, "you start thinking when will this hard work pay off? ... There was a point in time where (the Warriors) probably could have gotten the 15th player off each team, and he would've given them more production than I was. It's true."

It was true.

But that's what made his clutch 3-pointer in Game 1 against the Clippers so much more of a wow moment. And his 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in Game 4 made it feel as if the Warriors' young stud was back.

To be sure, Barnes' game benefits from the way he's used in the playoffs. He thrives when the Warriors play small ball. He has more space with which to work, the pace favors his athleticism and, as a power forward, he usually has a decisive quickness advantage.

Fewer isolations and more spot-up shooting is good for Barnes.

Before that happened, though, Barnes had to tap into the resolve he learned years ago. The same I-can-do-this confidence he used to destroy big-city kids in AAU tournaments that cost his family so much to attend.

Sunday, in the waning moments of the Game 4 victory over the Clippers, the starters were coming out to an ovation. Jermaine O'Neal rushed to the scorer's table, unannounced. He checked in for Barnes to make sure he felt some love from Oracle.

The tip o' the cap from the veteran was a symbol that Barnes was back. It wasn't a matter of if, but when.

Contact Marcus Thompson II at mthomps2@bayareanewsgroup.com.