Get this family dynamic: your father is one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the sport, your mother is the only woman whose jersey has been retired at the College of William & Mary and you have four brothers who played NCAA Division I basketball – two of whom had long NBA careers. Talk about pressure for the youngest child.
Canyon Barry, however, does not feel his family’s talent as a source of pressure, but as an opportunity to use his name to build his own legacy, using the College of Charleston as his driving vehicle.
Barry is a redshirt sophomore at the College of Charleston and is the leading scorer on the Cougars men’s basketball team. He stands at six foot, six inches, and uses his length and athleticism to regularly be one of the best players on the court. As impressive as he is on the basketball court, the sport is not what defines the youngest Barry.
Barry never was able to see his father or mother play basketball, but he certainly heard the stories of their fame. His father, Rick, is the only player in history to lead the NCAA, NBA and the now-defunct American Basketball Association in scoring. He was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987, along with having his number retired by the University of Miami and the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. His mother, Lynn, set 11 different women’s basketball records at William & Mary and was an academic All-American twice during her career.
With those basketball talents as parents, the sport was sure to be a part of Barry’s future, but growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., he decided that he did not want just basketball to define him. During his high school career, Barry won two state championships in tennis, one state championship in badminton and a state title in track and field as a triple jumper.
“I think I was best at tennis, probably,” Barry said. “I had a great high school coach and I was fortunate enough to win two state titles playing doubles. I think tennis is a great game; it’s good for footwork and eye coordination. I think playing doubles translated to basketball as well, interacting with a partner and trying to get through tough situations.”
He did not limit himself to sports either. He is an impressive guitar player and was a member of his high school band as a horn player, sitting first chair no less.
“Music is one of those things that really interested me,” Barry said. “Playing the guitar, the only thing holding me back was my own inability. With basketball, you always have someone guarding you, something in your way, so to say. I really like music because it lets me step back from basketball and helps me clear my mind.”
Barry did all that while also leading his school’s basketball team in scoring during his junior and senior years, with multiple all-state first team selections to his name. For his athletic excellence, he was honored with the high school athlete of the year by the Colorado High School Coaches’ Association.
“It was all a lot of fun,” Barry said. “To me, it’s good to experience new things both athletically and academically. I had a blast in high school playing all the sports I could because you know when you get to college, you have to focus on one sport, and obviously that’s basketball.”
On top of basketball and his numerous other activities, Barry ranked number one in his graduating class of over 300 students. This landed him in the College of Charleston’s Honors College after he was recruited for basketball by former well-known Charleston head coach, Bobby Cremins.
“When I was at a basketball camp in North Carolina,” Barry said, “someone told us that I should check out the College of Charleston and that Coach Cremins was there. Coach Cremins coached two of my brothers at Georgia Tech, so we called Coach Cremins and he heard that my dad had another son, and he took me on the spot. When I came for my visit, I loved the school and loved the atmosphere, so I knew it would be a good fit.”
Barry is a natural learner, someone who loves and appreciates learning new things whenever he can. He is a physics major, already finished a minor in mathematics, and is working on a computer science minor as well.
“My mom was always my driving force academically, knowing that you can only play basketball for so long and you have to have something to fall back on to earn a living,” Barry said. “I’m more of a math and science guy and physics has a lot of both those things. The math minor kind of falls into place with the physics major, and then physics now requires computer programming knowledge, which I didn’t know much about, so I think it’s fun to push yourself to learn something brand new like that.”
During his time in Charleston, he has taken part in the charity organization Charleston Hope, a non-profit organization that helps inner-city communities. His roots in charity come from serving as an Eagle Scout in Colorado, something that was always very important to him.
“I got a little grief from my teammates in Colorado for being a boy scout,” Barry said, “but becoming an Eagle Scout is a very prestigious award to receive. Being a scout, it teaches you discipline, survival and thinking on your feet, and also got me into charity work in general.”
Charleston Hope was founded by Emily Hoisington, junior and the girlfriend of the late Chad Cooke, a Charleston basketball walk-on who passed away suddenly in December 2014. Barry and Cooke took part in the organization together and Barry continues the work in Cooke’s name.
“Charleston Hope was something Chad was really into. It is a great organization,” Barry said. “We get to give presents to under privileged kids who otherwise wouldn’t get Christmas presents, things like that. Emily has done a terrific job with the organization; she’s a true angel for those kids, and I’m blessed to get to lend a hand.”
With all that Barry is involved in at the College of Charleston, his father is impressed with his ability to balance school, basketball and extra-curriculars.
“I don’t know how he managed to get straight A’s again this last semester,” Rick Barry said. “To be in the Honors College with physics, he has three textbooks that when I open, I could be looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics. He takes pride with what he’s accomplishing academically, I mean he makes arrangements with the custodian to get into the lab so he can really dedicate time to his schoolwork.”
On the basketball court, Rick Barry is his son’s biggest supporter and the source of Canyon’s unusual free throw style. While playing professional basketball, Rick shot underhanded, contrary to the overhand method, and led the league in free throw percentage nine different times. Of all his sons, Canyon is the second one to adopt the style and the only one to stick with it.
“My son, Brent, actually did it when he was in college and he was very good at it,” Rick said. “For some reason, he changed, but Canyon has the technique down, he’s gotten some bad breaks on some shots. It’s all about having a feel, but he hasn’t shot enough yet to trust it. His form is perfect, and it’ll fall when he trusts it.”
For Canyon, he knows he needs to continue to work at his free throw to get to the level of success at which his father shot.
“It really takes time to perfect, since I am nowhere near perfecting it. Hopefully by senior year, I will be able to shoot 90 percent. My brothers were all good free throw shooters overhand, so there was no need to switch to the underhand, but I like doing it and it fits what I am trying to do on the free throw line. There’s good routine, good balance. And from a physics perspective, there’s less joints and not as much movement coming from a lower trajectory,” Canyon said.
Rick Barry does not shy away from giving his son some constructive criticism about his game. He wants to see Canyon use his height and athleticism more to his advantage.
“I told him that you’re six feet, six inches tall, you reach higher than I did and you have a 40 inch vertical, you need to get in and get some more rebounds. When he does get them, and as a ball handler he takes it down the floor, a lot of good things happen,” Rick said.
Canyon embraces his father’s wealth of knowledge about the game of basketball, but also cherishes the motivation that his father gives him on a daily basis.
“In basketball, and really life in general, he’s taught me to give my best in everything I do. For him, you can live with yourself at night if you’ve given your best effort because that’s the only thing you can do,” Barry said.
For the youngest Barry, the idea of feeling pressure from his famous family is not something he thinks about. He enjoys having so many people around to help in every aspect of his life.
“I look at it as a blessing. I am able to learn from such a basketball-oriented family. The fact that my mom played college basketball, all four of my half-brothers played college basketball and then my dad is a hall of fame player, it means that I couldn’t ask for anything more and the best situation I could have possibly grown up in,” Barry said.
With two years left of eligibility at Charleston, Barry has plenty left to accomplish. He hopes to lead the Cougars to an NCAA Tournament berth before his time is up. If his goal of making the Tournament comes true, he would challenge any player as the most well-rounded athlete in the national field. With his physics major and academic excellence, it is safe to say that his parents will have to clear the mantle for an academic All-American award soon.
And that’s what pleases his father: knowing that he will be successful in whatever he pursues.
“People always say to me that I should be so proud of my kid and I say that of course I am, but not for basketball, not for the reason you think. I’m not worried about Canyon’s future. He’s not here to become an NBA player, he’s here to enjoy his life as a collegiate athlete. He truly embodies what the NCAA stands for – that is being a student-athlete.”
This article first appeared in the February 2015 issue of The Yard.