With his family’s support, Canyon Barry walks his own road

Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications
Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications
Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications

Watch Canyon Barry play for any period of time and it is easy to start seeing the famous family members who share his last name and prodigious basketball bloodlines.

The high-arching release and textbook follow through that sends his deep 3-pointer splashing through the bottom of the net; doesn’t that look just like his older brother, former NBA sharpshooter Jon?

Didn’t that effortless one-handed skip pass through three defenders to a cutting teammate look just like older brother and one-time NBAer Drew?

Isn’t he channeling his oldest brother, Scooter, when he ramps up the energy in the press and starts getting his hands on every pass?

That burst of speed and startling power finishing off a coast-to-coast drive with a soaring tomahawk dunk; didn’t that look just like his older brother, NBA Slam Dunk Champion and three-time world champion, Brent?

And, of course, when he steps to the free-throw line, holding the ball below his waist, knees shoulder width apart, and without a single dribble, bends his knees, and, with two hands, releases the ball underhand towards the rim “grandma style,” it is impossible to see anyone other than his father, NBA Hall of Famer and scoring champion Rick.

The thing is, if you spend your time seeing the other Barrys in Canyon, you’ve missed out completely on the youngest of the bunch.

“Every time you have a game, people are automatically going to compare you to them,” says Barry, a red-shirt sophomore wing at the College of Charleston and the youngest of Rick Barry’s five sons, all of whom played Division I basketball, referencing his famous family. “But all I can do is try to be the best player that I can be: Focus on playing like Canyon Barry and not trying to be compared to Rick Barry or Brent Barry or Jon Barry or Drew Barry or Scooter Barry.”

And while Barry is forever grateful for the help, support and guidance his famous family members have provided throughout his career, the only person he’s ever wanted to be is Canyon Barry.

“I’m extremely blessed to have grown up in the family that I did,” he says. “To have so many people who have been there and experienced success on the court who I can turn to for advice. But I’m not trying to be any of them.

“I’ve never tried to be anyone else other than me.”

So who exactly is Canyon Barry the player?

“[He’s] really, really talented, really athletic, shoots the ball from three well,” says Charleston head coach Earl Grant. “And he’s a kid who isn’t trying to be anyone other than himself. He’s obviously gotten a lot of great coaching and has a really strong fundamental background, like you would expect.”

As for who Canyon Barry is off the court — Canyon Barry the student, Canyon Barry the Christian and Canyon Barry the well-rounded human being — that’s a much longer story.

Basketball’s Royal Family

Canyon Barry was born to Rick and Lynn Barry on Jan. 7 1994, and there’s a story behind his unique first name.

“My parents were rafting in the Grand Canyon, “ says Barry, who speaks with a quiet but powerful confidence. “They were going on a weeklong rafting and camping trip and this was when my mom first thought she was pregnant and they were joking around and saying if it’s a boy we’ll name him Canyon, and she was pregnant and here we are.”

Two and a half months shy of 50 when his youngest son was born and 14 years removed from suiting up in the NBA, Rick Barry’s exploits — a Basketball Hall of Fame career that included eight NBA All-Star selections, five All-NBA First Team nods, an NBA Championship and the distinction of being the only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring — continued to loom large over his son.

“Obviously, growing up, everyone talked about my dad’s accomplishments, and once I started playing the game, people naturally would try to compare me to him,” he says.

Compounding those comparisons were the careers of Canyon’s four older half-brothers. Drew, the youngest, is 21 years his senior. All four of Barry’s older brothers played Division I ball — Jon and Drew at Georgia Tech, Brent at Oregon State and Scooter at Kansas — and all four went on to play pro ball, with Jon, Brent and Drew suiting up under the bright lights of the NBA just as Canyon was coming into his own on the court.

Playing in the shadows, and drawing constant comparison between so many famous relatives could feel like a tremendous burden — and set the bar impossibly high for a young player — but Barry viewed his father’s and brothers’ successes as a blessing.

“Obviously when you grow up as the son of one of the 50 greatest basketball players of all time, people think it put pressure on me,” says Canyon. “But, honestly, I just feel like I’ve been blessed to be able to learn from such a great player, and have him work out with me, and teach me the fundamentals, and critique my game is something that is priceless.”

“It was nice to have another safety net,” he says of his older brothers. “I could pick their brains for knowledge, because they all went through the same things that I went through — being recruited, playing at college, having those struggles when you’re not playing well, having those games when you’re not playing well, what did you do to get through it? How do you get better?”

Rick Barry’s most visible impact on his son’s career can be seen when Barry steps to the free-throw line and mimics his father’s iconic shooting form. Rick hit nearly 90 percent of his freebies — good for the third highest percent in NBA history — while shooting underhand.

“I didn’t switch to the underhand free throw until my junior year in high school,” Canyon says. “It’s still a work in progress for me. My goal is to shoot 90 percent by my senior year. My dad obviously again is a big influence in that, being one of the best free throw shooters of all time. It makes no sense for me to not examine shooting underhanded free throws when I have one of the best teachers of all time in him.”

His mother’s son

While the credentials of Barry’s male relatives are well known, he credits his mother Lynn, who is regarded as the greatest player in William & Mary history, as playing as big a role in his growth on and off the court as anyone.

“My mom, people don’t really know, she was a great basketball player, too,” says Barry of Lynn, who set 11 Tribe records during her career, six of which still stand, and served as an assistant director to USA Basketball for 11 years, before leaving to serve as a special advisor to the WNBA.

“She had as big an influence on my development as my dad has,” Barry says. “I’ve spent countless hours in the gym, working out, shooting with her, over the summer going to the park and shooting baskets with her.”

The top student in his high school class and now a member of CofC’s Honors College, Canyon credits his mother, a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American and a member of the CoSIDA Academic All America Hall of Fame, for his accomplishments in the classroom.

“Mom has really been a driving force academically as well,” he says. “She pushes me to be the best I can be in the classroom as well as on the court.”

Barry feels blessed to have his mother, who he calls his “best friend” and a “complete character” in his life. It’s a relationship embodied by Lynn’s tradition of picking her son up at the airport in outrageous attire.

“She’s funny, she likes to embarrass me,” he laughs. “It’s kind of a little tradition every year when I come home from college she dresses up and picks me up. One year she was a clown, one year she was a pig. She’s really fun spirited, and she likes to embarrass me. I put up with it, and I love her.”

Charting his own course

In high school, Barry excelled on the court for Cheyenne Mountain High School in his home town of Colorado Springs, helping to lead his team to the State 4A Championship as a junior and the Sweet 16 before suffering a season-ending injury as a senior in 2012, a year in which he was selected for the Fred Steinmark High School Athlete of the Year Award by the Colorado High School Coaches Association.

But Barry’s parents insisted his life consist of more than just basketball.

“My parents stressed being a well-rounded person and having other interests and passions than just basketball,” he says. “They always told me you never know, you could get injured, your career could get derailed, and things might just not work out.”

Away from the hardwood, Barry won a pair of state titles for the varsity tennis team in 2010 and 2011, and a state championship in badminton in 2010 and also lettered in tack and field in the high jump for two years. He served as the first chair euphonium in the Concert Band and Wind Ensemble, was active in the rotary club, and earned the rank of Eagle Scout as a Boy Scout of America — an accomplishment he remains proud of.

When it came time to choose a college, Barry went with Charleston over Davidson as well as his father’s alma mater Miami. Barry says his familiarity and comfort with former CofC head coach Bobby Cremins, who had coached older brothers Jon and Drew at Georgia Tech, factored into the decision, but that it was the school itself, and not the basketball program, that made him fall in love with CofC.

“One of the things my parents stressed was not basing my college decision only on basketball,” he says. “[Be] somewhere where you like the school, you like the town, you like the environment. They always said you just never know what can happen: A coach can leave, a coach can always get sick, which unfortunately coach Cremins did.”

Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications
Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications

Rolling with the punches

Before Barry played a single minute at Charleston, his career was thrown into flux. Health issues forced Cremins to retire and Barry spent his freshman season sitting out as a red-shirt for new head coach Doug Wojcik.

As a red-shirt freshman, Barry earned CAA All-Rookie and Honor Roll awards, but the Cougars struggled to a 14-18 overall record and sixth place finish in the CAA. In August, Wojcik was fired amid allegations of verbal abuse towards his players and assistants.

Losing yet another coach, especially one so late in the summer, meant that Barry and his teammates would have to form a relationship with Grant, their new head coach, while also trying to learn a new system virtually on the eve of the season tip-off.

It’s been a rocky year on the court, as a rebuilding CofC currently sits in last place in the CAA, and it’s been even harder for Barry off the court, as former Cougars walk on Chad Cooke, who Barry says was one of his best friends and with whom he participated in Athletes in Action, passed away just before Christmas after collapsing during a pick up game.

“You’re only here on this earth for a set amount of time and you have to make the most of it,” says Barry of the impact Cooke left on him.

Throughout the trying year, Barry has turned to his faith for guidance and comfort.

“I just think that everything you do, you have a purpose in life, that god put us on this earth for a reason. Through this whole process it’s taken my faith to a new level,” he says of Cooke’s death. “That’s the best thing you can do in sports is to play for Christ, to give the glory to God. You’re playing for an audience of one.”

Growing on the court.

Barry’s game has grown by leaps and bounds from his red-shirt freshman to sophomore season, as he’s raised his scoring from 9.3 points per game to a team-leading 12.5, and more than doubled his rebounds per game from 2.4 to 5.4 and also raised his field goal and 3-point field goal percentages, along with his blocks, steals and assists.

But Grant still thinks the lanky wing has a great deal more growth in him.

“I think he can be a lot better, a lot better,” Grant emphasizes. “He’s just now starting to scratch the surface of his abilities.”

For his part, Barry isn’t satisfied with his play on the court by any stretch.

“I try to be well-rounded as a player and I think I have a really long way to go,” he says.

“I think today, a lot of the game has taken away the mid-range, it’s either a 3-point shot or to try to get to the basket, and that’s something I’m trying to work on is keeping my mid-range game open. I think being able to shoot the ball is important from every position, it’s a fundamental skill of basketball. I’m hopefully becoming a good shooter, I’m trying to take it to the basket and again trying to develop a mid-range game.”

Barry dreams of following in the footsteps of his family members and experiencing both the NCAA tournament and a career in professional ball, but he says he will be walking his own road to get there.

“I love them for everything they’ve done for me, but I’m really happy just being me,” he says.

And at this point in his career, he feels confident in his own abilities, even when stacked up against those of his famous family.

“Obviously you’ve got to have confidence in your abilities, so I’d like to think I could take them both on in the shooting contest,” he says with a laugh when asked about how he would stack up against Jon and Brent. “In the dunk contest, I don’t know, Brent does have an NBA Slam Dunk title, that’s pretty big time, but I’ve got younger legs, so I think I might be able to take him.”

But what about his old man at the foul line?

“That,” he says with another laugh, “might still be a bridge to far.”

Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications
Canyon Barry. Photo Credit: Al Samuels / CofC Athletics Communications