Trail Blazers vs Thunder Friday, 04/12/13 AT 07:00PM

Will Barton: Student Of The Game, Life

04/11/13
  1. Written by: erikgundersen  / avg. rating: 5.0

    BY ERIK GUNDERSEN

    It was a Sunday night and I had just arrived for a 6PM tipoff at the Rose Garden where the Trail Blazers would later host the Chicago Bulls. The night before, I spent my night yelling in vain at a cold Autzen Stadium as my beloved Oregon Ducks saw a chance at a National Championship season slip away.

    The highlights were on the jumbotron as the Trail Blazers warm-ed up. Will Barton, waiting for a coach to help him workout before the game, took a seat by me at the end of the Trail Blazers bench. It was the first time I had the pleasure of speaking with him.

    We started talking about how great it would be if the Ducks could be in a playoff and get another chance. We talked about how great it is that college football will eventually have a playoff, even if it's four teams. Barton said he would rather have them do eight or 16. "It could be worse," I said.

    But then, in a few words, I learned a lot about Will Barton.

    "It could always be worse, man. That's not saying anything," he told me.

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    Barton's life story is as remarkable as you'll find. But his complete story isn't one that you'll find him talking about. Barton is an open book of stories and he seeks stories out like mad, but seems to only be moved by stories of life. If you sit down with him or catch him after a game he'll tell you one.

    That same day we talked football, Will, still waiting for the coach, was anxiously dribbling the basketball.

    "I love to dribble," he kept telling me. A walking Basketball Jones, telling me stories about how much he loved dribbling a ball around and always playing when he was growing up.

    Will isn't just a player, he is a constant observer of life and basketball.

    "I'm real big on watching documentaries of peoples lives. You know, how they grew up and how they start making it and all they had to go through. I'm real big on that," Barton said. "Whether it's a rap lyrics or an author or whoever it is. My brother sending me YouTube videos all the time of just people's life story. I don't even care who it is, just relate it to me."

    Earlier in the season when the Trail Blazers went through, with the help of hindsight, the immediate decline after their 20-15 start, it was Barton, a rookie, who expressed wisdom rather unexpectedly during the longest losing streak of his career.

    "I've been playing basketball all my life, you are going to win a lot, sometimes you are going to lose a lot. I always feel it's important to be a family and close-knit. That's the way you recover from it and get things on the right track. If the team divides, starts pointing fingers and we go our separate ways we'll never get it back on track. As long as we stay together, be family, be like brothers, we'll be fine."

    Barton, in the words of Terry Stotts, is a "baller." But he's a an observer and consumer of stories and even in his first season, he already knew something so integral to success in the NBA that a more veteran locker room  reportedly didn't last year.

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    The stories, the rap lyrics, the documentaries, they've kept Will upbeat during a time he wasn't playing the game he loves. After the team's loss on Wednesday, before Will had two good back-to-back games, Will talked about how lyrics from the rapper Future spoke to him.

    "Before he blew up he was going through a period where he was working real hard, you know, and people didn't take notice," he said. Future's lyrics also touched him with regards to not having his people around him. "Dealing with not having people, not having friends around him and just working hard."

    The words of "work" and "business" when talking about basketball that night showed me a difference in the Barton I first met. He talked about how he doesn't have a family, no wife or kids, to take his mind off basketball when he leaves the office. "It controls me," he said. He wasn't depressed, but he wasn't as Danny Nowell wrote in a great piece on Barton's potential, ebullient.

    But, even though the team kept losing and Barton's minutes were sparse again, Barton got a lift he needed.

    "Biggest thing for me, probably my brother (Antonio who plays basketball at Memphis) was here from Memphis. Him coming down, you know, my mind was totally off basketball, I was just free. I was just happy to see him. We've never spent this much time apart, so it's like my best friend. So him being here with me at my house, you know, we're just living and he just getting to see me accomplish my dreams. He has a chance at it next year. We just, you know, being brothers. He doesn't care about me being in the NBA and having good games. He love me for me, no matter if I fail or I'm famous, it doesn't matter."

    In the following two games Barton averaged 15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and five assists including his breakout 22-point, 13 rebound, six assists, three steal performance against Dallas on Sunday.
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    Barton has confidence, he's competitive, he has "swag," but overt-machismo, he does not. He is both positive and wise, but also constantly looking for experiences to adapt his perspective. A student of life and of the game. Constantly looking at other points of view. Barton just needed a break from it all.

    Barton is an open book and if you turn the pages, you'll discover something you didn't know. But perhaps what the most refreshing about Barton is, he's been openly turning the pages in the book of life and not afraid to show what he knows. He shows his hand, unafraid and unbothered by being who he is.  Suddenly, and not surprisingly to him, all of the eyes are on him while he does.

    "It's the NBA, it be like that sometimes."

    Few words, but the wisdom I've come to expect from Barton nonetheless.


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