While a relative unknown in American basketball, Chinese fans gushed at the opportunity to see Barnett play alongside former American college stars. He participated in an international basketball tour over the summer as part of the USA Eagles, a basketball team that traveled around China as part of a three-week goodwill tour. The team played five exhibition games against Chinese professional teams.
“It was amazing the amount of people that were at the games,” Barnett said. “Every game was sold out, and we had kids come up to us after the games and ask us for our autograph. It was a great experience.”
Besides basketball, Barnett was amazed by the cultural differences around him, half a world away.
“There is a huge culture change from America. Everything is different, it was a shock,” Barnett said.
“It’s cool to see the difference in the professional players in China compared to us. It’s definitely a different style of game and it was fun to play against them,” Barnett said.
Barnett’s trip to China was a major part of his offseason development, and he is looking forward to travelling back to continue to compete.
“I enjoyed my time there and I would like to go back to learn more about the game,” Barnett said.
Barnett had played in Bulgaria before with the Eagles. He got onto this team by contacting one of the coaches of the team.
“I contacted a coach that I knew on staff because they were looking for a shooting guard,” Barnett said. “After a while, I got a spot on the team and would be going to China.”
Barnett got to play with Ohio State’s Jon Diebler and Vanderbilt’s Brad Tinsley. Although those two players are more well-known in American college basketball circles, it was Barnett who stood out in China. He was a leader in scoring and rebounding during the five exhibition games, including 19 rebounds in the final two games.
Beside Diebler and Tinsley, Barnett played with Texas A&M’s Jordan Green. The former teammates played on opposite sides when the Billikens beat the Aggies in the CBE Classic in November.
Barnett’s play was limited for the Billikens during his first two years at SLU. He starred at the University of Toledo his freshman year, and soon transferred to SLU. After sitting out for a year per NCAA transfer rules, he only logged a total of twenty minutes on the court during his sophomore season. But, Barnett felt his time in China really helped him prepare for this season.
“Getting a chance to play was the best thing for me during this trip. I gained a lot of experience,” Barnett said.
The experience has certainly paid off, as Barnett has seen action in all 17 games this season, matching his total from last season.
The Billikens have fought injuries and absences all season but Barnett has been consistent contributor from the bench. He averaged 21 minutes in the first five games for the Billikens and got his first spot in the starting lineup against Southern Illinois University.
While his hard-nosed play sometimes doesn’t show up in the box score, Barnett is averaging 4.1 points and 3 rebounds per game,
“I try to do everything that I can to get a chance to play, and I have had some opportunities this season,” Barnett said.
Barnett’s popularity in China indicates that a shift in the demographics of basketball is lurking in the not-so-distant future.
For now, Barnett is back in the United States, where he has nicely settled back into a humble role coming off the bench for the Billikens.