When Sunday’s NCAA Tournament bracket was announced and Texas was placed in the Greensboro pod, it meant that Rick Barnes was going to be coaching in his home state of North Carolina.
Born and raised in Hickory, a town of 37-thousand and change, in Catawba County, Barnes grew up in basketball country and ACC country. After graduating from Hickory High in 1973, Barnes stayed in Hickory and attended college at Lenoir-Rhyne playing his college basketball games in the same gym in which he played when he donned the Hickory Red Tornadoes uniform in high school.
After graduating from Lenoir-Rhyne, Barnes began his coaching career. In 1978-1980, Barnes remained in his home state as an assistant on the Davidson staff, which is about an hour from Hickory.
Barnes then left his home state in 1980 accepting an assistant job at George Mason followed by stops at Alabama and Ohio State before beginning his head coaching career in 1987 at George Mason.
Now in his 22nd season as a head coach, Barnes has never left his hometown and home state roots. Every summer, he returns to Hickory to take part in Lenoir-Rhyne’s basketball camp and in 2002 was elected into the Lenoir-Rhyne Hall of Honor.
Barnes Hall of Honor Plaque
This week, Barnes is in a unique position. In his hometown, he is beloved. In his home state, he’s respected as a coach and at the same time, disliked by the state’s largest fan base, the North Carolina Tar Heels.
While Barnes has become one of the more successful coaches in college basketball, in his home state, he’s known more for taking on one of the legendary college coaches of all-time while coaching at Clemson.
Nearly a decade before Barnes became known as a coach that lead the Longhorns to the Final Four in 2003 and the subsequent “Big Dance” success, the highly competitive coach was best known for a confrontation with legendary North Carolina head coach Dean Smith in 1995 in the same Greensboro Coliseum that the Longhorns will take on Minnesota tonight.
The confrontation, which was seen by millions on ESPN and local TV stations for days after, immediately made Barnes enemy coach number one to Tar Heel fans.
The incident took place in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament as North Carolina was putting the final touches on a 78-62 victory. Clemson’s Iker Iturbe committed a hard foul on Tar Heels star Jerry Stackhouse, which resulted in Dean Smith barking at the Clemson player for an extended period of time.
Barnes then called timeout and began to yell at Smith. The two ended up in a face-to-face confrontation and the two had to be separated by referees.
Fast forward 14 years and Barnes is back in Greensboro in the same pod as North Carolina and Duke, who saluted him in his first game in Cameron after the incident with Dean Smith.
While Barnes will very likely receive a number of boos when announced before tonight’s game, a win over Minnesota and second round matchup against Duke will force the Tar Heel fans to make an about face.
Barnes may be a target of North Carolina fans, but their distain stemming from the confrontation with Smith pales in comparison for the hated of the Blue Devils.
Hickory High head coach and North Carolina fan Shawn Johnson says there’s no doubt who Tar Heel fans will cheer for if Texas and Duke survive and advance to play Saturday.
“No doubt, UNC fans will be cheering for Texas,” Johnson said. “UNC fans would love to see Texas beat Duke in Greensboro. In the town of Hickory, everyone will be rooting for Coach Barnes for sure.”
In talking with a number of Tar Heel fans, that sentiment is exactly the same with Joe Tar Heel. In fact, shortly before North Carolina began their shoot around on Wednesday in Greensboro Coliseum, a North Carolina fan pointed to the spot on the floor where the altercation took place.
“I remember that clearly and it took place right there,” the fan said pointing near half court by the scorer’s table. “We’ll be cheering for our Carolina boy though, especially if they play Duke on Saturday.”
At Wednesday’s media session, Barnes was asked about the incident with Smith and responded in his comical way, which he often does.
“Oh, they love me,” said Barnes smiling, “Both of those fans love me. I would imagine if we win the game (Minnesota) that Carolina’s going to pull for Texas. Because I think they dislike Duke more than they dislike me.”
Should Texas and Duke both take care of business today, Saturday will be a combination of boos and cheering for the same head coach and team just a few minutes later.
Catawba County, North Carolina
Charlotte Observer - Catawba County Bureau
A much younger Barnes...
Barnes Hall of Fame Plaque at Lenoir-Rhyne Gym
Hickory High School
Hickory High School
Hickory High School
Hickory High School Bus
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