TERRE HAUTE — For most of basketball history, one of the most fundamental questions anyone could ask about a player was what position they played?
However, with the evolution of so-called position-less basketball — in which varied skill sets and body types are emphasized so a player can take multiple places on the floor — the question has been turned on its head in recent years.
Young players adapt a lot quicker to changing times than old-timers do, so it’s appropriate when you talk to Indiana State freshman Cobie Barnes that he’s completely in line with the changing times.
“Coach said coming in we were going to have four guards and one big guy. He said my position is basketball, I just have to guard whomever he needs me to. Whatever position it is? I need to play it,” Barnes said. “I’m comfortable anywhere. In high school, I played every position. In AAU, I played one through four.”
The Floyd Central graduate isn’t just talking a good game, he’s showing it too. As the true freshman adapts to life as a college basketball player, he has taken multiple places on the floor for the Sycamores.
One day you might see Barnes in the post playing a traditional power forward. At other times, like Tuesday’s practice, Barnes was on the perimeter, playing more like a shooting guard or small forward role. He’s big enough to at least hold his own against bulky post players in the rebounding department and he’s athletic enough to exploit their lack of movement. He’s quick enough to stretch the floor and play on the perimeter.
There are rough edges to smooth out, but ISU is hoping his versatility pays dividends and his own confidence is boosted by their trust in him.
“You don’t have a lot of freshmen anywhere that can really come in and their coaches have that much confidence in them. He let me know he wanted me to be an impact player immediately. He wanted me to play my style of basketball,” Barnes said.
ISU coach Greg Lansing gave his review of Barnes to date.
“He’s smart, he listens, and he tries to do what he asks you to do. He’s got a high IQ, so he can virtually play any position. Once his 3-point shot comes in, he’ll really be hard to guard,” Lansing explained. “What he has to adjust to is his pace. He needs to work on his movement without the ball and his defensive pace.”
Barnes certainly comes to ISU with impressive credentials. An Indiana All-Star, Barnes averaged 25.8 points and eight rebounds at Floyd Central during his senior season.
ISU’s roster currently has four Indiana All-Stars on it — Barnes, De’Avion Washington, Cooper Neese and Jake LaRavia — as well as two Junior Indiana All-Stars — Bronson Kessinger and Jared Hankins. Tyreke Key did not play high school ball in Indiana, but he was the most decorated prep player of all as he was Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball. He’s also a multi-positional player like Barnes is.
Key knows what it’s like to be in Barnes’ shoes and he’s trying to show the New Albany native the ropes.
“He has to play his role. He’s going to have moments when he’s scoring and moments when he’s not. He has to focus on defense, get rebounds, he needs to do some things, but not do too much, which goes for all of us,” Key said.
So far, Key thinks Barnes is on the right path.
“His work ethic is impressive. He’s always in the gym when I’m in here. He’s always working out and doing the extra stuff. It’s going to be big because he’s going to be playing some big minutes,” Key said.
Having players like Key around is one of the things Barnes likes best about playing for the Sycamores. The family environment encourages player improvement.
“I’m comfortable. All of the guys are trying their best to get me acclimated to the system. Everyone tries to include me and help me get better. It’s a great growth environment,” Barnes said.
As far as the adjustment process is concerned, it doesn’t hurt that Barnes played during a high-water mark for high school basketball in one of southern Indiana’s best hoops hotspots.
The big three across the Ohio River from Louisville — Floyd Central, Jeffersonville and New Albany — were a combined 58-16 in 2019. Floyd Central didn’t play Class 3A state champion Silver Creek in 2019, but their success also demonstrates how deep the talent pool is in Clark and Floyd Counties.
“I played three years against a lottery pick [New Albany’s Romeo Langford, who is a year older than Barnes]. That helps explain how good it is,” Barnes said with a chuckle. “Every team has some type of Division I athlete on their team, whether it’s football or basketball. You have to compete everyday down there.”
Still, Barnes is a freshman and there are learning curves to straighten out.
“I’m trying to know when to shoot and when not to. I don’t think I really take bad shots, but I have to take shots that are open. My teammates have been on me to take open shots. I need to work on my confidence to get my shots up,” Barnes said. “[Defense] is always improvable. These guys are a lot stronger than high school so I need to be able to hit the weight room to get as strong as I can to play every position on the floor.”
There it is again — position-less basketball. Expect to see Barnes almost anywhere on the hardwood once ISU’s season begins on Nov. 9 at Dayton.