ORLANDO, Fla. — Aside from comedian Bill Murray, on hand to see son Luke as an assistant for Xavier, the sight that most likely had fans at Amway Center reaching for their cellphone cameras Saturday night was Florida senior Canyon Barry standing at the free-throw line.
Barry set a Gators record this year by hitting 42 in a row, and he’s a team-best 87.6 percent at the line this season. But he’s remarkable not for how regularly he hits his free throws but, in fact, how irregularly.
Barry shoots his free throws underhanded — “granny-style,” as you might hear in the stands — just as his father Rick, now 72, famously did in a Hall of Fame career in the ABA and NBA from 1965-80. The elder Barry, who played two seasons for the ABA’s New York Nets (1970-72), hit 89.3 percent while shooting underhanded, so his son’s style at the line is as reliable in its nostalgia as in its accuracy.
Canyon Barry, 23, averaged 19.7 points per game as a junior at College of Charleston last year, but after graduating, he chose to play his final year with the Gators. He’s thrived in a bench role, earning SEC Sixth Man of the Year honors and helping Florida to its first NCAA appearance since 2014.
“It’s just exciting,” Barry said this past week. “Your goal, growing up as a kid when you’re playing basketball and watching the tournament, is to be there one day, fortunate enough to get to play. Really happy that we could send the seniors out and get Florida back to the tournament. I know they’ve had a couple seasons where they haven’t made it . . . now it just comes down to winning games.”
To treat Barry as just a free-throw novelty is indeed underhanded. He has led the Gators in scoring 10 times this season, averaging 11.9 points per game as part of a deep offensive team that has had eight different players lead the team in scoring. That was expected to come in handy in Saturday night’s second-round showdown with fifth-seeded Virginia, which led the nation in scoring defense.
“Our mindset has been whoever’s got the hot hand, try to work through them,’’ Barry said. “We have great guard play and a solid interior, so hopefully if we’re all clicking together, we can beat anyone in the country. I hope that’s the case Saturday.”
Barry, who earned a physics degree at Charleston and now is studying nuclear engineering at Florida, is the fifth of Rick’s sons to play college basketball. Jon and Drew at Georgia Tech, Brent at Oregon State and Scooter at Kansas are all from Barry’s first marriage. Canyon’s mother, Lynn, played at William & Mary, where her No. 22 is now retired.
There are subtle differences between his free-throw shooting and his father’s. Canyon, for instance, doesn’t dribble before each shot.
Barry has shown his scoring potential this season, contributing 27 points in an overtime win over Georgia and 30 against Auburn, the most off the bench for a Gators player since Joakim Noah in 2006.
Teammates want to see Barry at the free-throw line more because it speaks to his style, attacking defenses and knowing two points are nearly as likely with him at the line.
“There’s been games where I’ve gotten to the line a lot and games where I haven’t,” he said. “I just have to stay aggressive. My teammates keep telling me, ‘Keep looking to score and just play your game.’ Just follow the coaches’ game plan and running our offense like we’ve been doing all year, and I think good things are going to happen.”