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Dominick Barlow proud to be Overtime Elite's NBA trailblazer with Spurs

Dominick Barlow proud to be Overtime Elite's NBA trailblazer with Spurs

In his 27th season as the head coach of one of the most prolific franchises in pro sports, Gregg Popovich has seen a lot of talent come through the San Antonio Spurs’ doors. But his first impression of 19-year-old rookie Dominick Barlow before the season is one he’ll not soon forget.

“I look at this guy, I say (to the Spurs staffers), 'Where'd you find this guy? Was he a bag boy at HEB or was he working at the gas station?'” Popovich recalled to Basketball News. “He looks like he never played basketball before. He's just this long, stick sorta guy. He looks almost uncoordinated in a way. 

“I said, 'Who is this guy?' And they said, 'Just watch him, just watch him. This guy is raw. It's a blank slate, but he's got really quick feet, he's long, he's eager (and) he's really smart.'”

Signed to a two-way contract on July 11, 2022, Barlow's pro career is in its infancy.

Considering there are players ahead of him in the Spurs' development pecking order, as well as more experienced individuals who are higher on the depth chart, the 6-foot-9, 221-pounder has only recently gotten the chance to get his feet wet at the NBA level. Now, having 10 games under his belt, he’s eligible to appear in the rest of the team’s 33 contests. Up until the trade deadline, he had played under 40 minutes across six total games.

San Antonio felt more comfortable with a gradual maturation via the G League, where the undrafted two-way forward is averaging 12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 26.3 minutes a night across 32 games played with the Austin Spurs. Chop that down to the last four contests —  25.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 steals on .603/.571/.929 splits  — and it helps explain why the big club called Barlow's number to see more.

Between Feb. 10-13, Barlow played 17.0 minutes a night over three games on San Antonio’s lengthy road trip, including significant stints in the fourth quarter. It was his first real exposure to the NBA level, and there are going to be more opportunities coming his way.

“Everything he's doing now is just like a freebie. He's gonna get these minutes and he's gonna play and we're gonna get to take a look at him,” Popovich said. “But he's been one of the team favorites because of his personality and his sort of wildness on the court. 'Cause he doesn't really know much yet. He's just got these athletic skills and he's like a whirling dervish, so to speak.”

“Just stay patient and stay with what I'm doing,” Barlow told Basketball News when asked what he’s learned during his rookie season. “Obviously, I think the organization is seeing something — some of the stuff that I'm doing often and allowing me to play some more minutes when some guys are hurt, which I want to just keep proving myself and proving I can play at this level.”

Barlow understands what it’s going to take to keep him on the floor at this stage of his career. It’s the simple things: Playing hard, running the floor, getting rebounds, finishing at the rim and, most importantly, locking in on defense.

“Everybody wants to become a good offensive player, but I think defensively is the way to get out on the court," Barlow said. "So just trying to read that and understand that certain guys can score. As long as you're keeping them in spots where they're uncomfortable and they have to make tough shots, you kinda sometimes have to limit that. So just trying to learn.

“Don't get too frustrated if a guy scores; you know you did what the scouting report says. You kinda just have to trust that sometimes. It's hard playing defense in the NBA. It's hard. There's so many different looks that you see, so you kinda have to just trust your coaches, trust yourself and just give effort. Effort, at the end of the day, will trump some of the other stuff.”

While he has yet to put a stamp on this league, he is already a trailblazer for another.

Barlow is the first player to make it to the NBA from Overtime Elite, a rising professional basketball league focused on preparing the top high-school prospects in hoops around the globe, giving amateur athletes an alternative path to the highest level of competition with proper preparation. 

“I take pride in representing Overtime Elite. I feel like as a brand and as a group, they helped me a lot [with] just learning how to lock in and work on my game, and [I] became a student of the game,” Barlow said. “So I take those values that they brought me and I try to bring 'em into here and be a pro and do the same thing every day. Regardless of what's gonna happen game-wise, just try to be a professional. So I take a lot of pride in that.”

“I loved coaching Dom. He worked hard every day, was dedicated and determined, and it finally paid off,” OTE Cold Hearts head coach Ryan Gomes told Basketball News. “He's where he always thought he would be, the NBA, and he's a perfect example of what putting in the work can do.”

A solid pro in his own right, Gomes spent eight years in the NBA and also had stints in the then-D League, Germany and Spain. He started many games and learned from a lot of great players, and he’s passed on his knowledge to Barlow.

“Prepare for the daily grind, watch film, study yourself and your opponents, re-watch your games, keep your focus on staying there — not just making it,” Gomes said. “Punch the clock every day.”

Gomes sees many parts of his student’s game translating to the NBA level. Barlow had a 40% clip beyond the arc with OTE. He also put positional versatility on display as a ball-handling playmaker at the 4 and as a two-way defender at the 3.

We’ve seen a lot of those tools being used in Barlow’s games in Austin, and some of them are coming to the surface with San Antonio. He’s a get-down-the-court, lengthy, athletic player with long strides who can feast in transition when given the chance. He'll block shots with either hand and tip a lot of passes too.

While in Atlanta with the program, Barlow admitted not everything in OTE’s first year went perfect. What that did, though, was force him to adjust — which is the biggest lesson he could’ve learned. 

“You're one of like, 30 people, so there's not too many other people that have that experience. So everybody kinda came in there last year not knowing how it was gonna go or what was gonna happen; they told us the plan, but obviously some things had to be changed on the fly,” Barlow said. “You just learned how to be adaptable and, whatever happens, you just kinda come in and really work on your game and just try to keep getting better every day.”

Already, Barlow has set an example for the next wave of OTE players — such as projected high-first-round picks Amen Thompson and Ausar Thompson — to follow. It's an accolade to especially to be proud of, and Gomes is beaming over that fact.

“I think it brings respectability for us as a program and league for a player like Dom (to accomplish this),” Gomes shared. “More under the radar, but able to apply the daily routine and have a focus and determination to achieve his goals of getting drafted. 

“And with the daily regimen that all student-athletes are on, him being first gives everyone — current and those who will come to OTE in the future — someone to look at and say to themselves, ‘I can get there too.’”

OTE gave Barlow his first taste of the resources other prospects might have had long before him. Remember, he was only identified as recently as two-and-a-half years ago before entering this tier of pro prospect. Now that he's got access to the best strength training to help him work on his body and on-court guidance to help him work on his skills, it's going to be a game-changer.

"Dominick has an it-factor about him that, when his story is written a few years from now, it's gonna be that much more amazing," a source who's worked with Barlow in the past told Basketball News. "His basketball IQ and his obsession with basketball is at the highest level — his ability to take in information and apply it very quickly, his knowledge of the game, the way he studies the NBA and the game and other players. He takes in all the coaching advice. He lives it and breathes it and applies it.

"The fact that he's 6-foot-10 and 19 and still growing, he's only gonna get stronger. He's got great feet. He's got good instincts that are getting better. He could be a poster boy for development long-term."

Every rookie experiences a classic rite of passage in Year 1 — the welcome-to-the-NBA moment. Coincidentally, it happened in the same city where he made all that noise in OTE.

“When I came down the lane in Atlanta, Clint Capela, he blocked my shot. Pretty crazy,” Barlow admitted. “I was just like, 'In the NBA, naw. I can't lay the ball up like that here.' So that was definitely a moment where I was like, 'Okay, yeah, this is definitely something different.'"

Barlow made sure to acknowledge and show appreciation to everybody in the Spurs locker room for their encouragement. He also pointed to well-seasoned big man Gorgui Dieng as one of the players who has taken the young forward under their wings.

“One of the veteran leaders in here, he's helped me a lot in game moments,” Barlow said. “If we have a timeout, just talking real quick, telling me, 'Hey do this,' or 'You're doing well, just keep doing what you're doing.' So it kinda just gives me confidence to keep playing hard and try to help this team win some games.”

That fact that he's an NBA player is still sinking in for Barlow. Growing up in the early-to-mid 2010s, he was glued to the television watching the Spurs and Miami Heat duke it out in the 2014 Finals. That series featured the superstar trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili completely dominating LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the help of a championship breakout performance from Kawhi Leonard. 

Popovich was in charge of the team then, and he’s in charge of the team now. Knowing that, and how he’ll be taking the same lessons that the Spurs' legend taught Hall-of-Famers, Barlow is grateful.

He won’t be taking this for granted.

“It's definitely kind of a surreal experience knowing that the man who was coaching in those games is now my coach,” Barlow said. “The organization has faith in me and I want to keep making them feel like they made a smart investment in taking me in and just treating me with respect and demanding good things from me. 

“I'm hoping to keep living up to those expectations and trying to go past that.”

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