CHAMPION - In a crowd of top high school basketball players, the only thing that would stick out about Champion's Ian Barnes is that he doesn't exactly look like he belongs.
His body is trim and not swelling with muscle, his stature is not towering to unsuspecting light bulbs and door frames. He exudes a kind and smiling demeanor and has the speaking prowess and intellect of a member of a high school debate team.
But as the old adage goes, "looks can be deceiving" and when Barnes hits the hardwood, it doesn't take long to realize he belongs.
"Ian has a very unique game," Champion coach Dan Bubon said. "At the all-star games, he's not going to stand out, I'll tell you that right now. But you put him on a team, and you wouldn't trade him for anybody. He is kind of like a (Rajon) Rondo. He's not going to go out and take 10 jumpshots in a row, but he'll get you a great shot and take good percentage shots.
"He's going to rebound, for a guard, better than anyone in the area. If the kid is smaller than him, he's going to post him up. He's going to do whatever you need him to do. Today, especially, that is extremely rare. A kid now just wants to shoot a 3 or drive it to the hoop, but his game is so much more."
Barnes, whose intangible skillset allowed him to stand out on a Champion team that suffered an up-and-down season during the 2009-10 campaign, chose to attend Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa. to major in post-secondary education while also suiting up for the Golden Tornadoes.
Barnes chose Geneva over a number of other universities, including Northern Kentucky University, Pfeiffer University (North Carolina) and Ave Maria University (Florida), all of which offered him the chance to accelerate his basketball game to the next level.
"I chose Geneva over the other ones because I liked being closer to home, I liked coach (Jeff) Santarsiero a lot and, when I toured the campus, it's where I could picture myself being," Barnes said. "I met the players and had a lot in common with them. I'm going to play basketball there, get my degree in secondary education in hopes of being a history teacher and then, hopefully, coach basketball one day like Coach Bubon."
It's not surprising that Barnes would want to be a coach, considering his court IQ and knowledge of the game is something that set often set him apart throughout his career. A 4.0 GPA that put Barnes in the top ten of his class didn't hurt either.
"To be cliche', you wish you had 12 of him every year," Bubon said. "He's an extremely hard worker, is extremely intelligent and very selfless. He could have easily been very, very, very greedy this year because he's one of the best players I've had. We didn't really have a good second go-to scorer, but he still shared the ball, did what he was supposed to."
To Barnes, his intelligence on the court is just something that came along with a life spent near the hoop, regardless of the surface or age.
"It came naturally for the most part, but I watched a lot of basketball too," Barnes said. "I watched how some of the bigger stars did it and tried to mold my game to theirs. (From the start) my dad had me out in the front yard, dribbling the ball on the blacktop, teaching me the basic fundamentals. My older brother (David), who played for Champion last year, and I always had battles and made each other better, too."
Barnes, who cites his favorite players to emulate being Jason Kidd and Steve Nash, knows that the transition into the college game will not be easy, but he has spent his life on the court utilizing the skills he was given and translating them into positives both for himself and his teammates.
"I just used the certain skills that I had," Barnes said. "I felt like I was a smart ball player and understood the game and I used that to my advantage. I also always just worked in the off-season to capture that edge on the court. The big thing is to never get discouraged. At times, it definitely gets frustrating, but you have always keep working hard and things will always work out."
But Barnes admitted even though he worked as hard as he could to improve and get to the point will be at come fall, both on the court and in the classroom, he has a support system that will be there when he gets to the next step of his life at Geneva.
"Coach Bubon has had a great influence on me, coaching me throughout and developing me into a point guard," Barnes said. "He just taught me how to see the game and understand it even more to help me at the next level. Also, my parents have just helped me tremendously. They always put my studies first, which will help me a lot in life."