Surprise has been a theme in Canyon Barry’s life.
It’s a theme that began before he was born.
Hall of Famer Rick Barry, and his wife, Lynn, were rafting the Colorado River, which runs through the bottom of the Grand Canyon when Lynn turned to Rick and blurted out, ‘I think I’m pregnant.’
Some seven months later, Canyon Barry was born on Jan. 7, 1994.
Ergo, the name Canyon was hatched. (FYI: Canyon would have been Cheyenne had he been a she).
The surprise that turned out to be Canyon Shane Barry just kept, well, surprising.
He got his dad’s brilliant hoops skills and his mom’s brilliance. Lynn was a two-time Academic All-American basketball player at William & Mary, so she’s got some serious ball skills of her own.
“I’m smart enough to know I’m not as smart as my wife or my son but one thing I do know is that Canyon can be a very, very good NBA player,’’ said Rick.
“I’m not blowing smoke because he’s my son. I know basketball. I know what players can and can’t do. He can play.’’
So why doesn’t the NBA world and many college basketball fans think that Canyon just might be next Barry to make his mark in the league just as half-brothers Jon, Brent, Drew and dad, Rick, did?
Some of it is because of Canyon’s unique journey and beautiful mind.
After playing three years at the College of Charleston, Canyon transferred to Florida, more for its renowned nuclear studies program than its basketball program. Canyon, who has a 4.0 GPA, is working on his Master’s degree in nuclear engineering.
He was a two-time Academic All-American at College of Charleston and the Academic All-American of the Year in his one season at Florida.
That makes Lynn and Canyon the only known mother-son two-time Academic All-Americans in college hoops history.
The surprises just kept coming.
“He finished the Rubik’s Cube in about 30 minutes so he and a buddy built bigger ones,’’ said Rick. “He does card tricks. He plays five musical instruments. He was an All-State tennis player.
“He would get back from road trips and go right to the lab. The janitor and his professors couldn’t understand how he was doing it all. I can’t either. I can’t pronounce the names of some of the courses he took.’’
Surprise. We fell into the same trap so many others have.
We’ve told you about Canyon’s high IQ, but that’s a subplot.
Canyon is an athletic baller.
His agent, Greg Javardian of Elevation Basketball Agency, will be first to tell you he thought Canyon was a high-level European player until he started watching more film of the 6-6, 215-pound shooting guard.
He saw one monster dunk when Canyon came off a curl in traffic, threw it down, and had scouts at the IGM Combine double checking their notes.
“I definitely feel the basketball aspect of me has been overlooked,’’ Canyon told MSGNetworks.com. “Yes, I think I’m a smart player who understands the game and has a high IQ but I’m not a slouch on the court.’’
The numbers support Canyon’s claim. At the IMG Professional Basketball Combine in May, Canyon was second in max vertical (42.25 inches) and the shuttle run (2.5 seconds), third in three-quarter-court sprint (3.18 seconds) and fourth in lane agility (10.64 seconds).
At the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament in April, he averaged 14 points and 7.3 rebounds in just 26.7 minutes. When you’ve given up on the Rubik’s Cube, think about that.
Canyon will play for the Knicks in the Orlando Summer League. Their first game is Saturday (3 p.m.; MSG Network) against Dallas.
First-round pick Frank Ntilikina and second-round choices Damyean Dotson and Ognjen Jaramaz also are in Orlando. Rick thinks Canyon and Ntilikina will form an intriguing backcourt but first, there’s making the team.
“I hope when more people see me play in Orlando my game will speak for itself,’’ said Canyon. “I’m going to give 100-percent of myself, on the court, on the bench, in meetings, whatever it takes.’’
The gap in Canyon’s journey to the cusp of the NBA is this: If he is a talented player, why didn’t he start at Florida after averaging 19.7 points and 3.4 rebounds in 31.9 minutes at Charleston?
During the recruiting process, Florida coach Mike White’s message was that Canyon was starter material. But when practice began, White felt his team would be more dangerous with Canyon coming off the bench.
He averaged 11.4 points, second on the team, in just 19.7 minutes. He made 113 of 128 free throws (88.3-percent), shooting them like his old man – underhand.
Canyon Barry draws the foul and converts the traditional three-point play, knocking down the free throw just like his father Rick did much to Jeff Hornacek's delight.
Only guard Kasey Hill attempted more free throws for Florida than Canyon. Hill averaged 28.9 minutes of playing time. Canyon was voted the SEC’s Sixth Man Award as Florida went 27-9, losing to South Carolina in the East Region championship game.
“He’s a very dangerous offensive player,’’ White said at the time. “I think that the under-appreciated value that we all are more familiar with now is his ability to draw fouls and then, of course, he converts at the foul line at a really high rate.’’
The Sixth Man Award is nice but it still begs the question: Why didn’t Canyon start?
“When Coach White asked me if I was willing to come off the bench, I told him I’ll do anything to win,’’ said Canyon. “In that regard, I think I have a very New York attitude. I want to win. I’ll fight to win.
“I think in addition to my game, the best thing about my approach to basketball is that I hate to lose. It leaves me with a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach.’’
Hold the Rolaids. Canyon, 23, just might have one more surprise in him. Buddy Hield, 23, stayed all four years at Oklahoma before getting picked sixth in last year’s draft. He made the NBA All-Rookie team along with Knicks center Willy Hernangomez.
Talented one-and-done players will rule the draft but there is a growing thought that there’s a place in the league for players that stay in college and mature physically and emotionally.
The Knicks didn’t sign Canyon because he graduated Summa Cum Laude. They offered Canyon a deal before the draft had ended.
“I understand the interest,’’ Canyon said. “There aren’t a lot of players in professional sports that took electrodynamics and radiation detection.
“Right now, I’m a basketball player. I intend to be a basketball player for many years.’’