But what if he got his shot? What if some team took a chance on a 30-year-old scoring machine? What if a kid from small-town, a kid who started in small countries worked his way to the top and finally had a chance?
“I never question God,” Barnes said. “Never. I didn’t get a chance because I wasn’t good enough. I was lower-level Europe. Now I’m older and better.”
No one knows much about Barnes, a native of Morrow, Georgia, except that he has been invited to play for the Minnesota Timberwolves with a non-guaranteed deal at stake. He’s been floating around overseas for seven seasons and caught the eye of NBA scouts in 2012 at the William Jones Cup in Taiwan. It resulted in him getting an invitation to a NBA workout for the first – and perhaps last – time.
“I didn’t know playing for a USA Select team in Asia would be seen by the NBA,” he said. “Luckily, I played great the game they watched. And I’m getting a chance.”
Timberwolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell knows a thing or two about guys like Barnes.
Mitchell carved out his 13-year NBA career the hard way. From a small college and the minor leagues as well so there’s a kinship between the two. He has done this in the past, identifying talent in the minors. In 2007, Mitchell signed Jamario Moon for three seasons when no one else could see his ability.
“This is a new NBA,” Mitchell said. “With the big contracts, teams look for guys like Barnes. He can defend and shoot the basketball. This is the only way JB could come close to making a team. He must do the little things.
“I want the kid to be successful,” Mitchell said. “He kind of reminds me of Moon as far as his road to get here. But I told him, ‘He better be read to play because the odds are against him.’”
Barnes’ story is one that could only be shown at the movies.
At Morrow High, he faced talent every night. Kwame Brown, Tony Douglas and Josh Powell were all in the region where Barnes was named First Team. He would later sign Division-I scholarship where academics played a major role. After two years of community college, Barnes finished at Point University, a small Division-III school with not one professional in its school history.
“Everyone at my school said I was crazy for saying I was a pro,” said Barnes. I just stayed focused and worked hard.”
Barnes would later be named National Player of the Year. He also led the country in scoring with 26.2 ppg and 19.8 versus Division-I competition. After an invite to L.A. for the summer league, Barnes signed his first pro contract. Barnes then played seven seasons in six other countries like Mexico, Cyprus, Dominican Republic, Taiwan, Uruguay and Japan.
With all his experience nothing could compare to 2012. That summer Barnes was selected to play for Team USA in the Williams Jones Cup live on ESPN and FOX Sports. There he was surrounded by big time talent from the NBA, Europe and the NBA Developmental League.
On a team filled with talent Barnes found himself at the bottom on the talent pool.
"I felt that guys like Marcus Melvin, Jermaine Dearman, Keith Closs and Gerard Anderson were more talented than me,” Barnes said.
Was he ever wrong. In his debut game versus the home favorite Taiwan National Team, Barnes exploded for 18 points in just 16 minutes.
“There were guys on our team that have better bios than Barnes but he had something special I took a chance on and I was right,” head coach Travis McAvene said.
Barnes would help led Team USA JC to the championship game versus the Philippine National Team where yet again he came up big. He was later named to the AsiaBasket.com All-Tournament Team, and was the team’s leader in assists. Team USA would fall one point short of a gold medal but it put Barnes on the map.
“After I left Taiwan, I started getting calls from everyone,” Barnes said. “I was hot and I felt I deserved to be on that level.”
Those very games caught the attention of a former NBA Coach of the Year (Mitchell won this award in 2007 while coaching the Toronto Raptors). Now the rest is history.
Does hard work pay off? Just ask Jermaine Barnes.