Harrison Barnes Signing Day: An Oral History

Posted November 13, 2020

Harrison Barnes Signing Day

During his senior year, Harrison Barnes was the #1 high school basketball recruit in the nation. On November 13, 2009, he announced where he would play his collegiate ball live from Ames High, broadcast on ESPNU for the nation to watch. The schools under consideration included North Carolina, Duke, Kansas, and Iowa State University. This is an oral history of that day from Ames High Athletic Director Judge Johnston and Ames High Head Basketball Coach Vance Downs. 

How did this event take place? Describe the steps leading up to this picture.

Vance: All I remember is Shirley and Judge putting it all together. The students got out of school early if I remember right.

Judge: We released school that day a bit early due to the number of media/satellite trucks and the size of the crowd.  We knew our parking lots could not handle this monster. I do believe Shirley and H requested to have it on campus so that the students/classmates could attend as well. It was one of my most favorite memories as an AD putting this event on.

Did you know which school he was going to pick?

Vance: I honestly didn’t know. People think I did, but I really did not know. Recruiting reporters were calling earlier in the day to get the scoop and I told them I really don’t know. I’m not sure they believed me. 

Judge: I did not know what his decision was gonna be. Being a former Cyclone, I even had the ISU Fight Song queued up in the sound system just in case he picked ISU, which I think I knew was a long shot.

How did Harrison handle the pressure of being the #1 recruit in the nation?

Vance: I thought Harrison handled it as well as it could be handled given everything that was going on. 

How did you prepare Harrison for this day?

Vance: This day was a culmination of talent, hard work, and being raised by a strong, loving mother. All we did was try to keep basketball as normal as possible. As much as we could, we tried to keep things in the gym all about ball. All of us knew full well the world was very different for H when he was not in practice. 

What was the energy level in the gymnasium?

Vance: ELECTRIC!!! The placing was buzzing. 

Judge: That day in the gym it was electric – standing room only.

When did the reality of this choice sink in?

Vance: It sunk in for me when it hit the media that afternoon. 

Did you ever try to protect Harrison from the media or did they have full access?

Vance: That was probably the biggest challenge off the floor and some days on it. We finally got to the point that Judge had to reserve one day a week for media outlets to have access to H. On the road, we basically had to have an escort into the facility and an escort out after the game

Judge: We did have a policy in place for this team at least H’s senior year – media could only visit practice on Monday’s for comments from H and others on the team for roughly 30 minutes prior to practice. We had to implement this to stop the daily requests of practice visits by the media which disrupted practice etc.