A little over a year ago, Canyon Barry wasn’t thinking at all about 3×3 basketball, but USA Basketball was definitely thinking of him.
Since, Barry went 0-4 in his first set of 3×3 games, observed by USA Basketball officials. He broke a fibula. He also rebounded from each obstacle, winning a world title last June and making the national team again this winter.
The half-court basketball discipline was added to the Olympic program for the Tokyo Games. In less than a year, Barry became part of the nation’s core group.
Barry, 26, played at the College of Charleston and then the University of Florida. He’s dribbled professionally in Finland, the Czech Republic, China and Des Moines, appearing in 61 games for the NBA G League’s Iowa Wolves between the last two seasons.
Barry has yet to play an NBA game — unlike his Hall of Fame father, Rick, and half-brothers Jon, Brent and Drew — but he became the first Barry to win a championship in a USA jersey at the 2019 FIBA 3×3 World Cup. He would choose the title of Olympian over playing one NBA game.
“Being able to represent your country on the biggest stage is something you can’t pass up,” he said last month. “Obviously, the NBA is the best league in the world, and it’s an absolute dream to try and make that and achieve that, but the Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Rick knows that well. Canyon’s mom, Lynn, may know it better.
She’s the one who first mentioned 3×3 to him last March. Lynn, whose jersey was retired by William & Mary, was an assistant director for the U.S. women’s national team through the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
“When I was little, I would always be in the gym running around in practice while the Olympic team was practicing,” said Barry, who has a a physics degree and a master’s in nuclear engineering. “I just remember Lisa Leslie, Swin Cash, Sheryl Swoopes, all those amazing female players … Now to be a part of that USA Basketball program, it’s kind of come full circle.”
Last spring, Barry was one of many G League, NCAA and overseas players invited by USA Basketball to take part in a 3×3 training camp. Olympic 3×3’s roster regulations largely rule out the potential for NBA players. The federation was on the lookout for talent.
Barry’s team of G League players went 0-4 at the national championships in May, yet USA Basketball still picked him for the four-man World Cup roster.
“Canyon has been on USA Basketball’s radar since he was a younger player, because he was a fairly well-recognized player,” said Jay Demings, who oversees U.S. 3×3 and is part of the selection committee. “You would think a lot of what you would look for in a 5-on-5 player would translate perfectly to 3×3, but in fact, It requires a number of different skill sets that not everybody possesses, but I think Canyon does possess those skills that translate to success in 3×3.
“He’s obviously mobile. He has size in terms of height [listed at 6-6]. His length. He’s a strong, tough player. He defends well, but he can also handle the ball, and he can also score at the rim and outside. When you’re looking for a prototype player, you want players that not only play the game like Canyon but think the game like he does.”
For the World Cup, Barry was put on a U.S. team with Purdue star Robbie Hummel, Kareem Maddox and Damon Huffman (who replaced G Leaguer Briante Weber).
Hummel, Maddox and Huffman had all stopped playing five-on-five and were part of Team Princeton, a group of players scattered around the country led by a 3×3 legend who famously beat Michael Jordan in one-on-one.
They were seeded seventh at the World Cup in Amsterdam, yet went undefeated to the U.S.’ first title. Serbia and Qatar combined to take the previous five.
Barry went back to Des Moines. In the fourth game of the G League season on Nov. 16, he broke a fibula contesting a three-pointer.
“Landed wrong, heard a snap,” he said. “Immediately you think the worst. ACL, something, knee. It was just a fibula [non-weight-bearing bone], clean break.”
Barry fortunately only missed two months. A month into his return, Barry joined other 3×3 players for a camp in Chicago during NBA All-Star Weekend to determine the roster for March’s Olympic qualifying tournament. Being named to the qualifying team wouldn’t guarantee a place on the Olympic team, but it bodes well.
Barry made it, again with Hummel and Maddox, plus Dominique Jones.
“We expected him to be a step behind,” because of the injury, said Demings, who told Barry he made the team at a breakfast, “but in fact he proved to be a step ahead.”
The qualifying tournament, slated for India this week, has been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. If Barry plays at an Olympics, he would be the first Barry to do so. But not the first Barry to attempt to make an Olympic team.
“The biggest disappointment in my career was not getting an opportunity to actually play in the Olympics,” said Barry’s father, the Golden State Warriors legend. He tried out for the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
“It was a joke,” he said of the process. Rick asserted the 1964 Olympic team was largely decided before more than 90 players tried out from the NCAA, NAIA, AAU and the Armed Forces. He believes there was also a quota system determined beforehand to take a certain number of players from one or more of the groups.
The 12-man Olympic team ended up including five NCAA players (but not Rick Barry), six from the AAU and one from the NAIA. Bill Bradley and Larry Brown were among those who went on to take gold in Tokyo.
“My dad always says one of his biggest regrets of his career was never being able to be an Olympian,” Canyon Barry said.
A USA Basketball spokesperson said they weren’t aware of any officials who are still alive who were part of the selection process.
Rick Barry did play one exhibition for the U.S. against a Soviet team as a University of Miami senior, when he led the NCAA in scoring at 37.4 points per game.
“I don’t think I got to keep [the jersey],” he said, “but I was just proud to have it on.”
But he would rather talk about Canyon, whose world title last year was cause for celebration back home.
“He’s already done something that nobody’s ever done in our family,” Rick said.
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