NEW YORK CITY — With every new spotlight and fresh wave of national exposure, Florida guard Canyon Barry can surely predict the questions that will come his way.
He got them all Thursday before the Gators’ Sweet 16 shootaround at Madison Square Garden.
There were the ones about his underhanded free-throw shooting and its origin, and of course the ones about his Hall of Fame father Rick Barry.
The younger Barry is a good sport about it, no matter how often he answers versions of the same questions, and the connection to his legendary father was even a little extra relevant and worth revisiting this week.
Rick Barry once scored 57 points at Madison Square Garden in 1965 (albeit at the arena’s old location) for the second-best total of his career. He made 21-of-22 free throws in the process for one of his best-ever performances at the line with those signature underhanded lobs. Simply put, it was one of the more memorable individual outputs ever delivered on the MSG stage, and now his youngest son will try to leave his mark in New York City’s famed arena.
“He played here a lot. I think he always had great games at the Garden,” Canyon Barry said of his father. “I think he used to like to take it out on the Knicks because they didn’t draft him first in the NBA Draft so he always liked to have big games here at the Garden against them.”
Rick Barry, who is from nearby New Jersey, began his career instead with the San Francisco Warriors in 1965. He bounced around several franchises while scoring 25,279 points and averaging 24.8 per game in his Hall of Fame career.
That 57-point performance at the previous version of the Garden was second in his career only to a 64-point performance nine years later.
Canyon Barry said his dad hasn’t brought up that particular story to him this week, though, or back in December when the Gators previously played here.
“No, I’ve heard the stories. He just kind of had a little chip on his shoulder that they didn’t think he was good enough to draft him. So he came out and torched people here,” Barry said. “He was a great player, and just to be able to play here is a blessing.”
Barry comes into the Sweet 16 as the second-leading scorer for the Gators (26-8), averaging 11.8 points per game. He’s been quiet the last few games, though, going scoreless in the SEC tournament against Vanderbilt before finishing with 7 points in each of the team’s first two NCAA Tournament games.
“I didn’t shoot particularly well, but I felt like I wasn’t 100-percent needed in those (NCAA tourney) games,” he said. Everyone else was playing so well, so more than happy to kind of know your role, take a step back, when other people are going get them shots, let them keep hitting. … You never know when your night’s going to be, though. I’m definitely ready to play, excited for this game coming up and who knows what’s going to happen.”
Overall, though, it’s been a very successful season for the youngest of the famed Barry basketball standouts.
He arrived in Gainesville this season as a graduate transfer from College of Charleston and went on to earn SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors while often stabilizing Florida’s at-times unpredictable offense.
As for those free throws, Barry is shooting a team-best 88 percent (110 of 125) from the line this season, which ranks 31st nationally.
“Really glad that he chose to choose Florida. I think he’s also a great example of the student-athlete. He’s a really neat story,” Gators coach Mike White said Thursday.
Said Barry: “It’s been a blessing to have such a great season at Florida. When I transferred, obviously it was part for basketball reasons and a lot for academic reasons. So to be able to get a great education at Florida and fulfill my goal of making the NCAA Tournament and now making a run in the NCAA Tournament has just been awesome.”
Oh yeah, the other question Barry usually gets in these settings …
He was asked how his nuclear physics studies were going, and he corrected the reporter that it’s actually nuclear engineering.
“I’ve got a test Monday so we’ll see how that one goes. I’m more focused on the game right now,” he said.
Barry said if he doesn’t find an offer to play professionally after this season — domestically or even overseas — he’ll remain at Florida working on his advanced degree. But he hopes that basketball is still in his future beyond whenever this Gators postseason run comes to an end.
And to that point, he can’t believe his collegiate playing career is almost complete.
“It feels like it’s flown by. It’s crazy to think this is my last season playing college basketball,” he said. “It’s been a blessing. I’m excited to keep it rolling, and hopefully we can make this tournament run a little special.”
He circled most of his responses back to the task at hand, this matchup with Wisconsin on Friday night and the opportunity to make another mark on the national stage.
That his famous father had some memorable moments in this same arena is a fun story line for reporters and perhaps fans, but Barry is solely focused on what he and his teammates can do this week.
“I’m more happy to be playing in the Sweet 16 than to be playing at Madison Square Garden, but if you just combine the two, it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m really excited and hopefully we can keep winning and have a couple more games here at the Garden.”