It was the fall of 2006 when Harrison Barnes and Doug McDermott walked into Ames High School for their freshman year.
Doug was the new kid as his family had just moved to Ames while Harrison had grown up in Ames his entire life. Both freshmen walked through the front doors of high school at the bottom of the totem pole.
For Doug, it was straight to the freshmen basketball team. Playing varsity as an underclassman was unheard of at Ames High, especially with how strict their coach was. But for Harrison, it was a different story.
“Me and my friends were playing freshman ball and he was on varsity,” McDermott said. “I remember meeting him in summer workouts in middle school. I could always tell he was going to be a really good player.”
For Doug, it took a while.
“He didn’t make varsity until his junior year,” Barnes pointed out with a grin on his face.
McDermott would spend his first two years of high school growing physically and as a basketball player before joining Barnes on the varsity team. The team knew they could be good, but the run they went on over the next two years would go down in the Ames High history books.
“Once I matured and developed a little more I was able to join him on varsity and we won 53 straight,” McDermott said.
53 straight games and back-to-back state championships.
“Those are the prime years of Ames High basketball,” Barnes said.
Barnes and McDermott headlined the team, but they also had a couple of other guys that went on to play basketball at the next level.
“Our junior year we had a guy go to Yale and Iowa State,” Barnes said. “It’s rare that you see so many people from one specific location. A small cluster of players that go on to play at some type of level outside of high school. Whether it is community college, D-1, NBA. Now, to see where we are at now.”
“Iowa basketball is pretty competitive actually. Not a lot of close games obviously with us two but we had a team around us,” McDermott added.
While Doug took his natural position at the four, Barnes played the wing, ran the point and whatever else the coach asked of him. As Doug would say, it was his job to clean up Harrison’s misses and shoot a lot of threes.
“He played the point, he ran everything. I was kind of the garbage man and cleaned up his misses. Shot a lot of threes,” McDermott said with a grin.
Harrison wasn’t your normal high school basketball player.
The hype surrounding Harrison was sky-high in Ames and it reverberated throughout the state of Iowa, but it hit the national scale when he was ranked the No. 1 player in the country during his senior season in 2009.
This brought the circus to the small town of Ames, Iowa.
“It was a really special time because he was getting a lot of hype as the ESPN No, 1 recruit in Iowa which was really cool,” McDermott said. “Everywhere we went it was really cool. We were like rock stars because of Harrison. I think we all became better players playing in front of big crowds because we were used to it at a high school level.”
“Bill Self. Coach K. Billy Donovan. All coming to our gym,” McDermott added.
Only two players in school history made it to the NBA and neither of them had the national spotlight like Barnes did.
Even though they didn’t lose a game in two years and felt like “rock stars” due to Harrison’s publicity … when you boiled it all down, they were still just high school kids enjoying their teenage years.
On Fridays, football was king in Ames.
“Go to the football game. Watch some Little Cyclones,” McDermott said on what a Friday night in high school looked like.
“We just had a good group of friends around us. In Iowa you find a way to make it fun. Campfires. Bonfires. Tailgating for football games. After the basketball games going over to friend’s basement,” McDermott added.
Harrison echoed the same memories from high school, except Harrison needed a little help getting around as he never got his license in high school.
“I never had a license or a car,” Barnes said. “I grew up with a single-parent mom and we had one vehicle. It was always with her.”
So Doug became his “road dog” as Harrison liked to call it.
“Doug‘s dad was the head coach at Iowa State. He had the Grand Prix,” Barnes said as we both shared a laugh.
“We always had to drive him around everywhere,” McDermott said with a laugh. “Those were the good ole days and carpooling. That’s where you bond as teammates and young men.”
When McDermott arrived in Dallas last month, Barnes picked him up for a season ticket holder event and they both chuckled about the irony of Harrison giving Doug a ride.
Was Harrison really a nerd in high school?
“Nah I just took advanced classes that was all,” Barnes said with a smirk.
“He was a nerd, but a cool nerd,” McDermott added. “He could have played anywhere based on his grades. He was always in honor classes and we were always stuck in the normal classes.”
Doug admitted to making fun of him for being in all of the “smart classes,” but Harrison also took heat for being in band. Harrison spent two years in the marching band playing alto saxophone.
As for who got the girls in high school, Barnes says they all wanted Doug “McBuckets” McDermott.
“I had a girlfriend. He was Fabio man, people loved McBuckets man,” Barnes said with a laugh.
After their second straight state championship, it was time to go their separate ways. Harrison held a nationally televised press conference announcing his commitment to the University of North Carolina while Doug would make his way to Omaha, Nebraska to play for Creighton University.
They would remain close during their college years, but it wasn’t until March 18, 2012 that both of their roads converged into the same path once again.
The top-seeded Tar Heels were matched up against the No. 8 seed Bluejays in the Midwest region of the NCAA tournament.
For Barnes and the Tar Heels, it was the second game of a tournament run that seemed destined for a championship rematch against an Anthony Davis-led Kentucky team.
Barnes was flanked in the starting lineup by four other future NBA players: Kendall Marshall, John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Reggie Bullock.
McDermott averaged 22.9 points per game while leading Creighton to a 29-6 record. The Bluejays beat Alabama in the first round before matching up with Barnes and North Carolina.
“They had like six NBA players compared to our one,” McDermott said. They were a lot more athletic. It was fun going up against Harrison.”
North Carolina would knock off Creighton 87-73. Barnes finished with 17 points and five rebounds while McDermott finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. It was the injury news after the game that dominated the headlines, though.
In the second half, North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall was fouled hard on a drive to the basket. After the game, it was announced that he had broken his wrist and would miss the rest of the tournament.
As the starting point guard and all-time single season leader in assists in the ACC, Marshall was a piece that proved to be irreplaceable as UNC would go on to lose in the Elite Eight to Kansas.
“They tried to rough us up man. They ended Kendall’s collegiate career. It was tough. Wrecked everything,” Barnes said as he reminisced back to that moment.
Barnes would leave North Carolina after that year for the NBA. McDermott would stay at Creighton for another two years, going down as one of the best collegiate basketball players of all-time. In 2014, he would win the John R. Wooden award and the Naismith Player of the Year award.
Fast forward four years later and now the high school duo are teammates once again … this time in the NBA for the Dallas Mavericks.
They might be grown men now wearing different jerseys, but they both can’t help seeing flashes of their time together at Ames High.
“Just watching him and seeing how much better he has gotten. Seeing his mannerisms. Just the way Harrison runs, it still feels kind of the same which is really cool,” McDermott said.
“When he shoots it and is playing, I’m like I know this stuff and have seen it for years,” Barnes added.
Now that they’re on the same NBA team, friends and family back home have one game circled on their calendars: March 2, when the Mavericks travel to Chicago to face the Bulls.
Chicago is roughly 350 miles away from Ames, Iowa and the head coach of the Bulls is Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg hails from Ames High himself and is one of the four players to make it to the NBA out of Ames High.
“The Chicago game is going to be nuts,” Barnes said. “Coach is on this vendetta to get Dick Gibbs to the game. He’s the very first guy from Ames High to go into the NBA. All four guys from Ames High.”
It’s safe to say Ames High will be well represented that night.
Until then, it’s catching up time for Harrison and Doug. Barnes says as soon as McDermott arrived in Dallas they instantly started reminiscing about their high school years in Ames. A team trainer refers to it as “Iowa talk” as the pair discuss names and places only an Ames native would know.
“When you are from that community, you know everybody,” McDermott said. “We had a lot of fun. Those final two years of high school were probably the funnest two years of my life.”
From the car rides and Friday night football games to their 53 straight wins and two state titles, the boys from Ames High are back together again.
This time, suiting up for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA.