NBA veteran and Baltimore-born Will Barton’s introduction to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday afternoon consisted of children screaming in excitement, countless autographs and the classic game of knockout.
Two weeks after Barton was traded to Washington from the Denver Nuggets, where he spent eight seasons as a reliable scorer, he stepped onto the court inside the Trinity University gymnasium during the Jr. Wizards Summer Camp, greeted by kids clapping and banging against the wooden floor. He answered questions ranging from life in the NBA to who’s the greatest player of all time. He would then get eliminated in knockout, allowing the campers to have their moment in glory before Barton signed the kids’ basketball shoes and they took photos of him wearing a Wizards No. 5 uniform.
Moments later, Barton was surrounded by reporters asking about playing close to Baltimore, the city that molded him into the player and person he is at 31. Knowing his family can drive to watch him play on a daily basis, Barton said his return to the area means everything.
“It drives me to play harder and to play with even more passion,” said Barton, who is entering his 12th season in the league.
Barely more than an hour away from Capital One Arena, where the Wizards play their home games, Barton was a star at Lake Clifton. After playing two seasons at City College and one at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, which Barton called a “vital” moment in his basketball career, he led Lake Clifton to a perfect 28-0 record. Barton was named The Baltimore Sun’s 2009 All-Metro Player of the Year after averaging 18.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists while helping the Lakers win a state championship.
Barton, who was a five-star recruit and ranked the eighth-best player in the 2010 class by ESPN, played his final year of high school basketball at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire. Still, the competition level in the Maryland area was essential to his journey to the NBA.
“Playing in this area, no one is going to give you [anything],” he said. “It’s tough, gritty, and we really get after it. I feel like it’s the best basketball in the world.”
Barton made a lasting impact in two seasons at Memphis. He led the team in minutes played as a freshman before becoming the 2012 Conference USA Player of the Year, averaging a team-best 18 points per game.
Barton was drafted in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers, where he played three seasons before getting traded to the Denver Nuggets in 2015. The 6-foot-6 guard flourished in the Mile High City, averaging 14 points and five rebounds in eight seasons with the Nuggets.
Barton’s mother, Karen Bush, was the first person he called when he learned he’d be headed to Washington along with teammate Monte Morris. Even though he was surprised about the move, Barton was excited that his mother will have 41 opportunities to watch him play.
“Anytime you [leave] somewhere that you have been [at] for so long there’s a shock factor,” he said. “Once I found out where I was going, I was intrigued and ready to go.”
Barton said Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard and coach Wes Unseld Jr., also a Baltimore-born standout who was previously an assistant in Denver, wants him to be himself. They hope Barton can help the Wizards with his energy, scoring and veteran leadership.
Barton wants to contribute as a playmaker while continuing to serve as a mentor to Isaiah Todd, who was also born in Baltimore and will be entering his second season.
“I’m like a big brother to him,” he said. “He played a couple of times with my AAU team and things of that nature, so we have a pretty good relationship. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Barton said being in Washington allows him to take occasional trips to Baltimore to be more involved in his WB5 Foundation, which provides hope and support for low-income communities.
But more importantly, Barton hopes to inspire kids in Baltimore and the campers who were star-struck by his appearance that their dreams of playing professional basketball can be a reality.
“I want to give them a big-time effort every night because kids from our area need to see that,” he said.