Hometown Report

Hometown Report: Clippers’ Matt Barnes transformed from finesse to ferocious playing high school football

Joe Davidson
Joe Davidson

The turning point for Matt Barnes, his gradual evolution from finesse to ferocious, played out on a football field in one crushing moment 18 years ago.

Barnes had his helmet knocked off, and he wobbled about as if he was searching for his head.

It was the fall of 1996. Well before his tour in the NBA led him to starting at small forward for the Los Angeles Clippers, Barnes was all arms, legs and curiosity as a junior at Del Campo High School. At 6-foot-8, Barnes was a college basketball recruit, but his slight frame made it easy to shove him around. To counter that, Barnes joined the football team as a wide receiver. His coach, Steve Kenyon, ordered him into the weight room and implored toughness at all times.

Against Grant, Barnes went across the middle on a pass play and was blown up. He went down, and his hat bounced away. Barnes was ready to give up football, to surrender to hoops as his year-round sport. Kenyon insisted he stick with it. He did, and he changed. Continued weightlifting and football transformed Barnes. He gained muscle and confidence. By his senior year, Barnes competed with a nasty disposition. He took out linebackers as a blocker. He caught an area-record 28 touchdown passes, muscling past corners or jumping above them. In basketball, Barnes became a complete player as a senior, hitting jumpers, posting up or dunking as if to say, “Look at me now.”

At UCLA, Barnes started all four seasons and impressed his strength-and-conditioning coaches. He has logged 11seasons in the NBA, the past two with the Clippers. Grit keeps Barnes employed. He throws elbows. He boxes out. He fights for every loose ball. He even hit a crucial late three-pointer Saturday to help Los Angeles eliminate the Warriors in Game 7 of a first-round playoff series.

And Barnes still has a fan in Kenyon, who has retired as a football coach but now tours the West Coast implementing dozens of new weight rooms for high schools. Kenyon and Barnes remain close. Barnes has credited Kenyon, in part, with his NBA longevity, including offseason strength-and-conditioning sessions.

“It’s been an interesting journey for Matt,” Kenyon said. “He’s done a great job in terms of dedication, sticking to it, working out, competing. It takes years to build a big body, to develop muscle. Matt was 6-8 and 195 in high school. He’s now 6-8 and 245, and strong. Man, is he strong. And he’s truly an enforcer. He’s like Dennis Rodman.”

Barnes said he might have been a better fit in the Rodman era of the late 1980s and the ’90s, when the NBA was more rough and tumble compared to today’s flop era.

Said Barnes after watching the ESPN documentary “Bad Boys” on the Detroit Pistons teams of the late 1980s and early ’90s: “I wish we could go back 20 years and play that way. If I did some of those fouls that I saw (on the documentary), I’d probably have to find a new job, take my kids out of private school and cut my wife’s allowance. We’d be in trouble.”

Pacer pride

Grant coaches, family and friends of players in the football program attended the documentary “Give Us This Day” that chronicled the Pacers’ 2012 season in the Sacramento debut at the Delta King in Old Sacramento. The behind-the-scenes film offered a look at Grant as it dealt with players struggling with injuries, grades to become scholarship-eligible or off-field issues such as the death of a popular assistant coach. Coach Mike Alberghini was the star by just being himself, firm but fair and appreciative of player effort. Defensive coordinator Reggie Harris also played a big role – animated and caring as a father figure. Visit www.giveusthisdayfilm.com for more information.

Wolverines moving on

Infielders Dalton Blaser and Dustin Vaught have signed with Cal State Fullerton. Last weekend, the sophomores helped Sierra College win its ninth NorCal Regional title since 2000 with a two-game sweep of Modesto. The fourth-seeded Wolverines (23-15) host College of the Sequoias (29-9) in a best-of-three Super Regional series starting Friday.