April 4, 2007
By Nick Carboni / Courant Staff Writer
GROTON – Nothing fazes Matt Harvey as he goes through his precise, fluid delivery on the baseball field at Fitch High School. Not the rapid clicks from the photographer’s camera behind the catcher. Not the scout with the dark sunglasses lurking next to the equipment shed. Not even his association with agent Scott Boras and the potential of earning millions of dollars just weeks after his high school graduation.
Baseball America’s Prospects Plus ranked Harvey the No. 1 high school player in the country. Harvey, 18, has signed a letter of intent to play at the University of North Carolina next year, but he is expected to be selected high in Major League Baseball’s June draft and sign a professional contract.
Current projections have him going in the first half of round one, which would mean a signing bonus in the millions. He would become only the eighth player with Connecticut state ties to go in the first round since the draft began in 1965.
Still, the attention doesn’t seem to intimidate Harvey.
“I like having pressure on the baseball field,” said Harvey, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthander from Mystic.
Halfway through this bullpen session on a cold, cloudy afternoon in late March, Harvey’s coach comes over to check on him. The man with the silver hair and mustache in the red Fitch baseball jacket is in his 29th season as coach of the Falcons. He is also Matt Harvey’s father, Ed Harvey.
Ed, whose teams have won three state titles, has a team to run. His practices flow along like clockwork. Every player rotates between several stations. Each station exists for a reason.
No one understands this better than Matt, who helped Ed win a state championship in 2005. Matt’s work ethic matches his father’s routines. His dedication to his eventual goal of pitching in the major leagues was part of what helped him add 35 pounds of muscle since his sophomore season. Before warming up, Matt spends a few minutes on his back doing leg stretches. He then stands up and uses a pitcher’s band to strengthen his arm. Everything is done with exactness and care.
Ed says Matt is hands-down the most talented and hardest-working player he has coached in 34 years at Fitch as an assistant and head coach. That includes Paul Menhart, a major league pitcher for three seasons, and countless collegians and minor leaguers.
Ed, also Matt’s physical education teacher at Fitch, enjoys the uniqueness of his situation.
“When you think about it, not many guys can teach their sons, live with their sons and have them play baseball for you,” he said with a smile. “And then for him to be one of the best you’ve ever had is pretty cool.”
Matt speaks with a matter-of-fact tone, much like his father. He articulates softly and deliberately, collecting his thoughts before talking. And the son has a tremendous respect for his father’s baseball knowledge. The elder Harvey was a standout for both the UConn football and baseball teams, including its College World Series team in 1972.
“I like coming up here and doing what he knows he wants to be done,” Matt said.
At 10, he was jumping into Ed’s batting practice rotations at third base. One day, he fielded a grounder and threw the runner out by half a baseline. There was hooting and hollering all around. Often, Matt would have Ed throw him pitches after practice and keep a catcher around in gear for some late afternoon tosses from the mound.
Matt stood out at every level, but Ed maintained his distance. Not wanting to meddle, he coached Matt at home, letting his Little League and Babe Ruth coaches do the rest. And that 12-to-6 curveball that has garnered so much attention lately? Matt had to wait patiently until he was 13 before his father showed him how to show the bender that Ed says, “When he’s on, I haven’t seen anyone hit it.”
A true student of the game, Matt would watch pitchers on television, paying close attention to the science of getting batters out.
These days, scouts are drooling over his breaking ball and fastball, which has been clocked in the mid-90s mph since he was barely 16. Last season he was 5-0 with 80 strikeouts and a 0.81 ERA.
More importantly, scouts love his graceful deliver, performed with machine-like consistency.
“Easy gas,” Ed calls it. Despite his pro potential, North Carolina didn’t hesitate to offer Matt a scholarship.
“We didn’t take the chance (of signing top prospects) in my first few years here,” said coach Mike Fox, in his ninth year at North Carolina. “He’s the total package. (Pitchers like Matt) don’t come along very often.”
Dave Piela, a 1984 Fitch graduate and bullpen catcher for the Double-A Norwich Navigators, began catching Matt this winter and acknowledged his potential.
“I love the way he approaches his work,” Piela said. “I think you notice it in the way he carries himself. He doesn’t carry himself like a high school pitcher.”
In most cases, first-round draft picks out of high school end up signing pro contracts rather than going to college. Both Matt and Ed say that if the situation is right, Matt will do the same.
“A lot of it is money and that’s always a factor,” Matt said. “If the opportunity comes, I’d love to start now and have the chance to be 21 years old and pitching in a big-league ballpark.”
Now, the little kid who used to get dropped off at his father’s practices after school gets advice from Boras, one of the most successful agents in sports.
Matt met with Boras last summer in California for 4 ½ hours and discussed a potential professional relationship if he does sign a contract in June.
The association is much like Boras’ pre-draft affiliation with past top prospects, such as current Angels pitcher Jered Weaver, in 2004. As long as Boras does not handle Matt’s expenses during visits, the connection does not violate his NCAA eligibility.
Once a player is drafted, teams have a year to sign him, unless the player enters, or returns, to a four-year college full time.
The connection with Boras, whose client list includes Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Barry Zito and Johnny Damon, has its obvious implications. Boras has a reputation as a tough negotiator and has been known to advise prospects to use a potential college career as leverage to generate a more lucrative contract. It has led some teams to stay away from drafting Boras-affiliated player.
Weaver is a more comparable prospect to Matt. In 2005, Boras helped Weaver, then at Long Beach State, to get a $4 million signing bonus after his first-round selection by the Angels nearly a year earlier as the 12th pick in 2004. Matt said that he would sign with Boras if he goes pro this summer.
But for now, Matt’s goals are simple – win Ed his fourth state championship. After that? Make an impact in the major leagues.
“I want to get there,” he said. “And I want to stay there for a long time.”
April 28, 2015
By Nick Carboni / WBIR
HICKORY, N.C. -- The floor is still the same.
Years of refinishing has given it a shiny new gloss, but the basketball court at the Hickory Foundation YMCA in Hickory, N.C., is still made of the same hardwood panels as it was a half-century ago.
Executive director Angela Chapman's eyes light up at the mention of new Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes.
"We love Rick," she says, as she reaches behind her chair and lifts a framed and autographed picture of the coach.
Down the hall and through a set of doors is the original basketball gymnasium. It's where Barnes, hired at Tennessee on March 31 after 17 seasons at Texas, spent much of his time growing up in this small city tucked away in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
"It's all I knew," Barnes said. "Loved everything about Hickory."
The baskets aren't the same. A modern scoreboard is lit, zeroes for home and away, 20 minutes ready to go on the clock.
But the floor is still the one on which Barnes bounced a basketball for countless hours as a youth.
He was there so much that C.O. Miller, the man who ran what was then called the Hickory Foundation Center, gave him the keys.
"He would also close the main building and leave Rick in the gym to let himself out when he finished," said Miller's son, Dave. "He was for sure a gym rat."
Many late nights and early mornings spent at the center were born out of sheer drive, said his mother, Mary. After winning a basketball trophy in the fifth grade, he became determined to improve at the sport he began to love, she said.
"One day it was snowing real hard," Mary said. "I looked out the window and he was out shooting his basketball. He kept that basketball all the time."
He had his basketball, and he had his bicycle. And by the time most people in Hickory actually met him, they already recognized young Ricky from seeing him zip down Highway 127 in his Viewmont neighborhood.
A basketball and a bicycle. And usually clothes.
Except for the time his older brother, Tommy, bet him $5 he wouldn't cruise down 127 naked.
"And I lost $5," Tommy Barnes says.
Even now, the first word that Mary uses to describe Rick Barnes is "mischievous."
A hard-scrabble life
Richard Dale Barnes was born July 17, 1954, the fourth of five children.
But from a young age, Barnes' father was not a presence in his life, and the family had its share of struggles.
"Rick came from a meager background," Dave Miller said.
Without a father, and with Mary working, Sandra, the second-oldest and only girl, became an essential part of the household.
"She'd cook a lot. Wash our clothes." Tommy Barnes said. "Took care of us."
"My sister was very important to our family," Rick Barnes said.
The new UT coach was especially close to her.
"Sandy was like a mother to him. Anything he wanted," Mary said, "she'd do for him."
Soon after high school graduation in 1968, Sandy Barnes and a friend, taking part in a Hickory High School post-grad tradition, drove to Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Their car was struck by another vehicle.
Sandy Barnes was killed.
"It was a very hard time for me," said Rick Barnes, who had just completed the eighth grade when his sister was killed. "I kind of went off the deep end a little bit."
Turning to basketball
Basketball, and his time at the center, became Barnes' escape.
Dave Miller was several years older than Barnes but had never met him. That changed when he was shooting alone inside the center's gym.
"He came in and just started rebounding for me," said Miller, who claims his jump shot was the model for Barnes'. "I could tell he was really interested."
C.O. Miller saw that interest as well and helped Barnes any way he could.
"He was like a father to him," Mary said.
Like Miller, many other Hickory residents became instrumental in Barnes' life, "when I desperately needed help," he said.
They included Alice Watts, Barnes' ninth grade Algebra teacher.
"I had made up my mind that I was going to quit school," Barnes said.
The adults in his life — Watts and Bill Johnson, Barnes' basketball coach at College Park Junior High School — would not let that happen.
"Rick and I kind of came to an agreement," Watts said. "We'd make sure he had his work done before he went to practice."
Many others helped, too.
One guidance counselor walked with Barnes around the school and talked him through the tough times.
John Lentz, a basketball player at nearby Lenoir-Rhyne College, befriended him and helped him on the court.
"My roommate went to Hickory High," said Lentz, who resigned recently after 29 years as Lenoir-Rhyne's head coach. "He said (Barnes) could use a little guidance, talk with him."
Barnes would become Lentz's teammate at the college. Lentz let him stay at his campus apartment expense-free, and even paid for his first pair of canvas Converse shoes.
"I knew where to get the irregulars," Lentz said with a smile. "Instead of being $6.95, they were $3.95."
At Lenoir-Rhyne and Hickory High School, Barnes was a solid basketball player, but he wasn't the best.
Barnes had drive
"You could just kind of tell with Rick that he was going to aspire to something," Miller said. "He had a drive."
It was the kind of drive that later made Barnes wait for half a day in a sweltering gym for a job interview at Davidson, until the coach finally showed up – 12 hours late.
It's the kind of drive that's led to 604 wins, seventh among active Division I coaches, and 22 NCAA appearances in 28 seasons as a head coach.
But it's never driven his heart from Hickory.
"He has not forgotten his roots," Dave Miller said.
Along the way, Barnes has helped install a roof and a playground at East Hickory Baptist Church.
Plus, the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears have some burnt orange basketball gear.
Barnes hasn't forgotten his heroes, either.
He once took a group of his teachers from College Park Junior High to lunch, and he still keeps in close touch with Watts.
"When somebody says you made a big difference in my life," Watts says, "that's very special."
And take a left out of the YMCA, and you'll find a new building, right next to the gym where Barnes spent his days and nights dribbling a ball.
A sign above the entrance reads: "C.O. Miller Teen Center."
Dave Miller says Barnes was a "key player" in getting it funded.
Part of its mission reads: "Young people are navigating a difficult bridge into adulthood, and we exist to help them get across safely."
Barnes did, and he hasn't forgotten why.
"Those people came into my life for some reason," Barnes said. "They are truly the people that were there."
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