Canyon Barry An Olympic Hopeful For Team USA

One of the many events that was sacrificed at the hand of current pandemic was the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

When it comes to watching Gators perform at the Olympics you’re normally talking about athletes from Florida’s tremendous track and field program, or their world-renowned gymnastics team, or perhaps the swim and diving teams that have produced a ton of gold and silver medals in recent history.

Those sports all come to mind first when it comes to Gators at the Olympics but had the 2020 Games gone as originally planned you would have seen a former Gator that you may not have expected.

Canyon Barry.

Barry, a graduate transfer from the College Of Charleston, had a productive year for the Gators in what was a super-sub sixth man role. His performance was pivotal for a Florida team that ended up making an Elite Eight and while Chris Chiozza’s shot against Wisconsin gets most of the press if not for Barry’s chase down block moments earlier the Gators wouldn’t have won. He was fantastic for the Gators but given the fact that he hasn’t gone on to make the NBA, you might be surprised to hear that he was on track to represent the USA in the Olympics.

That’s because Barry participates in 3 on 3 basketball (or, as the international governing body of basketball brands it “3X3”) and is a major player in the American program.

3X3 hasn’t been a part of the Olympics in the past but it was set to make its debut in the 2020 Tokyo games. It has been steadily growing around the world and while it’s not yet a major deal in North America it has strong popularity in Europe, particularly in Russia, Latvia, and the country that currently dominates international 3X3 play–Serbia.

Barry has a bit of a roundabout way of getting into 3X3. After graduating from Florida Barry didn’t have any NBA looks and he spent his first year splitting time between pro teams in Finland and Czech Republic. Solid performances there earned him a quick look from the Minnesota Timberwolves of the NBA who quickly sent him to the developmental G League.

Since 3X3 basketball isn’t a major sport in North America, the USA hasn’t done as well in international play as you’d expect from the producer of the best basketball players in the country. A large part of the reason why is that players simply aren’t aware of the game. For that reason, USA Basketball took matters into their own hands and started attending G League training camps and inviting players to attend the USA Basketball 3X3 camp.

Always down for a challenge, Barry accepted the invitation.

If you don’t know anything about the 3X3 game, there are a few rules you need to be aware of. First, the game is incredibly fast paced and has a 12-second shot clock. If there is a made basket the shot clock starts the moment the ball goes through the hoop, not when a team gets possession.

The winner is the team first to 21 points, and the game is scored by 1s and 2s instead of 2s and 3s. That puts a huge premium on shooting from behind the arc.

Because of the way the game is designed, versatility is king when it comes to players who excel. Because of the quick shot clock you need every player on the floor to be able to get the ball and handle it and because of the scoring system everyone needs to be able to hit the deep ball. And, because there are only three players per side, ideally each one has the size to bang with big players and hang defensively with quick perimeter guards.

Barry excelled at 3X3 from the get-go. In college or the G League he was never the biggest, never the fastest, and never the most skilled, but on the 3X3 court his jack-of-all-trades style made him far more valuable than one-trick ponies who were better suited for the pros than he was.

Barry’s 3X3 career was just taking off when disaster struck. In competition he suffered a broken fibula, a devastating injury for any athlete.

Fortunately he was able to rehab quickly and was back on the court, playing for Iowa of the NBA G League and still traveling internationally to play 3X3 ball with USA on his chest. Ultimately his great performances got him a position on the top-ranked American squad, most prominently featuring former Purdue star Robbie Hummel.

Barry, Hummel, and a rotating cast of other players currently make up USA’s top-ranked 3X3 team and that had them on track to represent the country in Tokyo in the first ever Olympic inclusion of the sport. As one of the top-ranked teams, they also would have been in the mix to win a medal.

With the event pushed back a year we’ll have to wait to see Barry playing in the Olympics but it’s something to watch out for as his journey is quite the story. Every young athlete dreams of playing in the Olympics and Barry found a way to carve out a role on an Olympic-quality team, even if it’s not in the prototypical way that sport is usually represented.

Barry’s dedication to all areas of the game of basketball has been rewarded in 3X3. Oftentimes multifaceted players aren’t fully utilized in the regular five on five brand of basketball, but versatility is of utmost importance in 3X3 and that has made Barry an Olympic hopeful.

As you look forward to the 2021 games, know you might have a great Gator to cheer for on the court.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.