GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Canyon Barry knows there will be some sideways glances this season the first time Florida fans see him step to the foul line and shoot underhanded.
That’s usually the case.
“Usually the first one everyone is kind of shocked. They look around like, ‘What was he just doing?’ Then they’re all paying pretty close attention to the second one,” Barry said. “But I’m excited to bring the underhand free throw to the O’Dome this year and I’m sure I’ll catch grief for it on the away games. But they can’t say anything if you make them.”
After Florida ranked 323rd nationally in free throw shooting (64.7 percent) last season — not to mention 290th in 3-point shooting (31.9) — coach Mike White and the Gators will welcome Barry’s contributions any way they come.
A graduate transfer newcomer, Barry averaged 19.7 points per game for College of Charleston last season while shooting 84.5 percent from the foul line and 33.3 percent from 3-point range (down from 36.8 percent the previous year).
The first thing Florida fans will identify about the 6-foot-6 forward is probably his lineage. He’s the youngest son of Hall of Fame NBA star Rick Barry — who is perhaps most famously identified with the underhanded free throw. Also, four of his half-brothers played Division I basketball as well with Jon, Brent and Drew also playing in the NBA, and his mother Lynn Norenberg Barry played basketball at William & Mary.
“I just think of it as a blessing,” Canyon Barry said. “I feel like I’ve grown up in one of the greatest basketball families of all time, and just to be able to have that wealth of knowledge available to me has just been phenomenal for my development as a player.”
And again, like his father, who led the NCAA in scoring in 1965 at Miami and went on to score more than 18,000 points in the NBA, the second thing Florida fans will recognize about the newcomer is undoubtedly that underhanded free throw shooting.
“I’ve gotten heckled before. I think the funniest one was in high school — I missed a free throw and they started chanting, ‘You’re adopted.’ That was actually a pretty funny one. I had to give them credit for that,” Barry said.
He recalls deciding prior to his junior year of high school that he wanted to give it a try and said it wasn’t until last season, when he knocked down 60-of-71 attempts at College of Charleston, that it felt natural to him.
Barry hasn’t been as successful convincing his new Florida teammates to give it a try.
“No, he’s tried a little bit. He tried to recruit John Egbunu early on. John gave it about four or five reps and threw it away,” White said. “But he’s knocking them in, in practice. Canyon is arguably our best free-throw shooter right now, so it’s fascinating to watch.”
Once they get past everything else, though, Barry is hoping Florida fans will ultimately come to appreciate him as an all-around player and potential difference-maker for a Gators team picked to finish second in the SEC.
He chose to finish out his final season of collegiate eligibility at Florida because he wants a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, and he thinks his time in Gainesville can be a mutually-beneficial partnership.
“Honestly, I’m just trying to help in whatever way possible to make this team win,” Barry said. “I spent four years at Charleston and we got close to the NCAA tournament, but we were never able to make it there so this year I just want to make the NCAA tournament and hopefully make a run. So whatever the coaches need, I’m willing to do.”
It’s not clear what his role will be.
During Florida’s intrasquad scrimmage Friday, Barry scored 11 points in 26 minutes on 4-of-6 shooting overall, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range. (Unfortunately, he did not get to the foul line.)
He views himself as more than just a perimeter shooter, though, and hopes to showcase the all-around game that allowed him to average those 19.7 points per game before a shoulder injury ended his campaign after 13 contests.
In looking to transfer for his final season, Barry called the process a “whirlwind.” He had a connection with Gators assistant coach Jordan Mincy, who spent one season at College of Charleston in 2012-13, and he liked the academic opportunities available in Gainesville. He is pursuing a graduate degree in nuclear engineering after studying physics as an undergrad.
That could lead to some interesting career opportunities down the road, but first and foremost Barry wants to follow in the family business and play professional basketball after what he hopes will be a successful final college season.
While he couldn’t convert Egbunu to the underhand free throw, he has impressed the junior center in other ways.
“He’s been really good so far. He can really shoot the 3, which was like a deficiency of ours last season,” Egbunu said. “So having someone who can spread the court out a little bit with KeVaughn Allen as well will be really good for us.”
Said senior point guard Kasey Hill: “I thought he might have been a guy that was just a catch-and-shoot (player), but he’s not that at all. He can actually create his own shot, get to the basket and he can finish. And I like that a lot.”
Again, Barry’s role is still undetermined. White feels like the Gators have good depth this year and the competition is ongoing as he works to identify a rotation.
One way or another though, White expects Barry to make an impact this season — whether it’s working his way to the line for those underhanded free throws, providing the Gators some needed contributions from the perimeter or in other ways.
“Canyon wants to win, and I expect him to maintain that mentality more than anything else, whether that means he scores 21 a night or scores 4. That goes for everyone on our team,” White said back at the team’s media day earlier this month.
“I can’t tell you with some of these guys, we have healthy competition. I don’t know whether Canyon’s going to play 20 minutes a game or 35 minutes a game, and a lot of that will just depend on Canyon and his production and how well we play when he’s out on the floor and how well other guys are playing. We’ve got, again, better depth, more experienced. He provides a lot of that. He’s a very good player. We’re very glad he’s here.”