Nanomaterials, jazz guitar and a legendary underhanded free throw mark Canyon Barry as his own dude


It doesn’t necessarily crimp the guitar playing, the slacklining, the tennis, the classes in quantum mechanics or the 4.0 GPA. But a shoulder injury does tend to put a screaming kibosh on the idea of skateboarding to and from class every day.

“Yeah, I’ve got to be careful during basketball season,” Canyon Barry chuckled. “Coach (Earl Grant) doesn’t want me skateboarding (all the time). Usually, I trade my skateboard for a bike.”

The College of Charleston’s junior guard, son of hoops legend Rick Barry, is very much his own dude, thanks very much — a throwback and an original, an underhanded free-throw shooter (thanks, Dad) and a double major in physics and computer science. A slice of Colorado cool on the Carolina coast.

“I don’t know if I’d classify myself as a free spirit,” the 6-6 Barry said. “But I think you can only control so many things in life, and you’ve got to roll with the bounces. I think God has a plan, and you trust in Him and things will be good.”

From a basketball sense, it’s been worse. And better. On Jan. 2, a breakout season hit a wall when the junior tore the labrum in his left shoulder against William & Mary. The timing was a bummer: Barry was in the throes of his best campaign as a collegian, averaging 19.7 points per game through 13 contests.

“Yeah, it’s definitely one of those things where you wish it wouldn’t have happened,” said Barry, who’d reached double figures in scoring during 11 of 13 starts. “I think, in life, everything happens for a reason.”

It’s a four-to-six month recovery from January surgery, but the baby steps have been moving in the right direction so far — he’s hoping to engage in basketball-specific drills within the next 30 days or so.

“It’s definitely not good timing,” Barry said. “But I just try to control the things I can control, and try to be as good a teammate as I can, help as much as I can, encourage our guys. And try to continue to do well in the classroom.”

Check. Check. Check. Check. And check. Last week, the swing man was named Academic All-District for a second straight year, having maintained a 4.0. As a sophomore, Barry was a member of the Capital One Academic All-America Men’s Division I Basketball Second Team and the only one with a perfect GPA. He still hasn’t settled on a final class project — although he’s leaning toward something involving nanomaterials.

“Nanomaterials, they’re only a single atom thick,” Barry said of the substances, believed to be 10,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. “So it’s basically carbon, but a single layer thick.”

It takes a beautiful mind to juggle physics, computer science and a basketball grind on the same menu. That and a ninja’s cool.

“It’s not easy,” Barry said. “But it’s a funny story.”

One that basically starts like this: Because the Cougars guard had so many advanced placement credits on his transcript coming out of high school, the NCAA felt he wasn’t making enough “progress” toward his degree.

“That’s why I had to add another major in computer sciences,” he noted. “Which is kind of ironic.”

Barry has always been the fearless type, a sweet shot and a thick skin. As a teenager, he adopted the “granny” style of free-throw shooting famously practiced by his father as his own, a lob and a legacy.

“To do the form correctly, you’ve got to have big enough hands to get the ball over the top a little bit,” explained the younger Barry, who was converting 84.5 percent of his free-throw attempts this winter and boasts a 76.5 clip at the stripe over the last three seasons. “I didn’t really have it (down) until junior year of high school.”

At first, the underhand approach shocked teammates who were unaware of his heritage. Rival student sections didn’t miss a trick, though — especially the student sections back home in Colorado Springs, where one rival throng roared with delight when an attempt landed wide.

“They all started chanting, ‘You’re adopted,’” Barry recalled. “I thought that was good.”

Funny, yes, but also off the mark. Canyon’s father is a Hall of Famer who remains the only player to ever lead the NCAA, NBA and ABA in scoring over a single-season. His mother, Lynn, was a basketball standout at William & Mary and an NCAA enforcement representative. All four of his older half-brothers played Division I basketball, with Jon and Drew having served under the tutelage of former Charleston coach Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech.

“I think I’ve been blessed to grow up in a family that had such a wealth of knowledge in the game of basketball,” Canyon said. “My parents never forced me to play the game … having such a great teacher (in my dad) was a blessing to me. I had some of the best coaches working on my fundamentals and skills growing up. I can’t thank my parents enough for not only introducing me to basketball, but just supporting me in everything I’ve done.”

Which includes music. A first-chair euphonium player in high school, the younger Barry became piqued by the guitar after a watching a player in a church group, and decided a few years ago to take it up himself. Inspired by the late Joe Pass, Barry takes classes in jazz guitar and plays occasionally with an ensemble.

“It’s kind of tough for me in that when I learned to read music, I was reading bass scale and then I switched to guitar, and that’s treble clef,” Barry said.

“I haven’t written anything for guitar, but I’ve arranged some pieces. We’ll play some of those songs. I just think it’s a good break from basketball and school.”

And if Barry wants a break from gravity, he’ll find a window, even now, for a bit of slacklining, which involves walking (carefully) along a thin webbing anchored, high-wire style, between two points.

“We would set up webbing between two trees,” Barry explained. “I started doing it in high school during lunch or during off-periods. That’s where that comes from. It’s fun. It’s good for (balance).”

Although for insurance policies, not so much.

“I guess you could look at it like that,” Barry said. “I’m not stringing it across high ravines.”

A free spirit has to draw a line somewhere. Even if it’s a few feet off the ground.

Above: Before tearing his labrum in January, College of Charleston’s Canyon Barry was having a breakout season on the court including utilizing his father’s legendary underhand free throw style. Barry continues, however, to have breakout work in the classroom. (Courtesy Al Samuels/College of Charleston Athletics Communications)

Sean Keeler

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