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