'T-Rel' and 'E' make unlikely duo
The search for a tag-team label is tricky, but search you must, because upon pairing the nation's No. 1 high school basketball player with the No. 1 tackle prospect for a brief tour of hoops terror on the AAU circuit, you have something so cool that a joint calling card seems essential.
Heckle and Jeckle come to mind, but the cartoon magpies were acidic and cynical, which fits neither Ames (Iowa) High hoops star Harrison Barnes nor St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham Hall offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson.
Laurel & Hardy? Nah.
Stan Laurel, the happy, easygoing half of one of the great comedy tag teams of the early 20th century, was super-slender. Easygoing? That's Henderson. But at 6-foot-8, 337 pounds, the tackle and slender don't dance.
Abbott & Costello? Closer.
Stan Abbott was a lean straight man in a mid-20th-century chuckles tandem, and that description fits the 6-6, 190-pound Barnes. He founded his own Bible study group and absorbs education and intellect as though it matters most (summer reading: "Secrets of the Millionaire Mind: Mastering the Inner Game of Wealth").
Plus, when Henderson and Barnes were teammates on the Twin Cities-based Pulley Panthers for three spring-summer tournaments on the AAU circuit, Henderson pinned the straight man's role on Barnes by frequently busting his chops.
"Oh, all the time," Henderson said when asked how often he gigged Barnes. "He is super-serious. He never stops. He's pretty much different than a lot of guys. He really takes basketball and school seriously."
But Abbott lacked motivation, which Barnes absolutely does not, and although the portly Lou Costello was, like Henderson, almost ever-pleased, Costello's character was aimless and nearly brainless. He couldn't have cared less about inconveniencing others.
Not this big guy.
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"Seantrel has a regimen, and he doesn't deviate," said Rene Pulley, executive director of the Pulley Panthers AAU program. "He'd be so tight from doing power lifts, he could hardly run up and down the floor. We'd say, 'Don't worry, we know that football is going to be your thing.'
"He's like a gentle giant, and he'd be pouting, like he was letting us down."
Maybe more research will lead the way to a nickname or two.
If you follow recruiting, you know of Henderson, who has a Wikipedia page, and Barnes, who wrote a summer diary for SLAM Magazine.
In North Carolina's Research Triangle, Duke and North Carolina are going at it in pursuit of the silky smooth. To wit: Coach K and Roy Williams were in Ames in the past month.
Barnes has made official visits to North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas, Duke and UCLA. He went out of his way to mention that his hometown Iowa State remains in the running: "That will be an unofficial."
Pulley, who already had Henderson in his program, had met Barnes in previous summers and lured the precocious player to travel with his squad several months ago.
"He's very intelligent, very sharp, almost like he's a better person than a basketball player, and he's a very outstanding player," Pulley said. "He has very advanced maturity. He's ready to play mentally and physically in college basketball right now.
"He had a hairstyle when I met him as a freshman; he had twisties. When I saw him again, he had cut them, and I said, 'What happened to your hair?' He said, 'I'm getting ready for the future.' I think he was thinking about image."
By many accounts, Barnes is measured in nearly every approach.
He routinely goes to bed around 9:30 p.m. because he gets up absurdly early to work out. The morning after Ames lost the state championship game in his sophomore season, he was at the school gym by 6 a.m., calling his coach, wanting to know why the doors were locked. The Little Cyclones went 26-0 and won it all last season.
Barnes agreed to a phone interview at the urging of his mother, Shirley, an assistant in Iowa State's music department. (Her son is quite a saxophonist.)
After a couple of simple interrogatories in perhaps 45 seconds, he said, "Excuse me, sir, but how long is this going to take? I've got about five to seven minutes."
Of course. It was about 9:15 p.m., and he had to brush his teeth.
"He finds a goal, and then he's unforgiving in pursuit," Ames coach Vance Downs told SI.com.
Pulley confirmed it.
"Kids these days work on what they can already do well. Somebody is a leaper, and all you see him working on is his dunking," he said. "Harrison started working on all phases of his game. As a freshman, he really started working on ballhandling. There were times he even played the point for us."
Ah, yes, the ballhandling. Henderson noticed.
"Harrison always has these little bouncy tennis balls with him that he's dribbling, like in the hotel," the big tackle said. "I'd always tease him about that. Right before a game, though, he doesn't say a word."
Barnes is not a big talker, at least not in volume. He talks big, though.
"We had quite a few late nights just talking about our lives," Barnes said of rooming with Henderson on the road and the differences they spoke about. "I would say that for him, being the No. 1 football player is a lot different because a lot of his potential is based on his body and what he looks like.
"He could walk on an NFL field now and be fine. I can't walk on an NBA court right now. I have a lot of things to work on in terms of strength and things like that."
Of playing both sports in college, Henderson said, "I just want to try it, and if it works out, keep doing it."
Pulley sees a different future.
"I'm going to go on the record saying it probably won't happen. Seantrel Henderson is a hell of a physical specimen like I have never seen in my life," Pulley said. "He runs like a guard [when loose]. I hate to say it, but I used to stare at him. I'd never seen a kid that big move like that.
"We played a team in Georgia, and he set a pick, and that kid it was like hitting a wall; he slid down like on a cartoon. We got a lot of calls from major colleges wanting to know about basketball, but when you're almost an automatic NFL player, I mean I'm overweight and old, but I could get 10 yards behind that guy."
Having made official visits to Ohio State and Notre Dame, Henderson has upcoming visits to Florida, Oklahoma and USC. He, like Barnes, is also deferring to a hometown school in saying that Minnesota is in the mix.
That both players share one school among their finalists -- Oklahoma -- seems coincidental. They recently have been in touch only occasionally.
"It'd be great if we ended up in the same place; we'd have some stories," Barnes said of Henderson. "I would say from a physical standpoint that any Division I college football program would want him for his size, strength and quickness. I called him T-Rel."
That's a merger of T-Rex and Seantrel, of course.
Barnes, who occasionally returned Henderson's barbed salvos during the summer, speaks easily, confidently, smoothly, deliberately as he plays.
"I used to call him effortless; that's the way he looked," Henderson said. "Or just 'E.'"
T-Rel & E. That's it, a new, short-lived brand -- unless perhaps the Sooners land both.
Matt Winkeljohn left the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after spending 21 years there. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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