LONGMONT -- If shot blocking is a lost art in Colorado prep girls basketball, Skyline sophomore Naomi Barron is certainly one of the few to have uncovered the secret.
Many basketball teams feed off their on-court leaders' ability to score. But while she can score just fine, Barron's influence lies not in the points she puts up on the scoreboard but those she keeps off of it.
Currently fifth in Class 4A with 3.2 blocks per game while guarding the paint for Skyline, the 5-foot-11 center has influenced plenty of games, and shots, this season.
In Barron's opinion, many things can happen if an opposing player gets a shot up on the rim. She listed a two-point basket, an and-one, free throws, an offensive rebound and another shot, to name a few. None of those possible outcomes seem like good options to Barron, so she'd rather avoid them all by sending the shot back where it came from.
"You build a lot of confidence going to the rim and my job is to shut that down," said Barron, who is also averaging 9.9 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. "I'm there to say, 'This is our house. You can't come in here.' I just think in my head, 'Get the ball out of here.'"
To Barron, being a shot-blocker is about controlling the paint, and thus the pace of the game, as much as preventing opponents from scoring. As demoralizing as her lengthy athleticism can be to other teams, Barron's natural ball-swatting ability can work her teammates, and the Skyline home crowd, into a frenzy.
"When you get a good swat, you can hear the crowd go, 'Oh,' and stuff like that," she said. "It feels really good to hear that and to hear your teammates saying 'Good job' and 'Thanks for helping me' and stuff like that."
Several of Barron's more emphatic rejections have drawn "You got swatted" chants at Skyline High School and have even provoked excited reactions from opposing student sections. This past week Barron blocked the same player so many times she heard her mutter, "Man, not again," under her breath.
Having played both basketball and volleyball most of her life, relating the two made Barron better at each. For example, as middle blocker on the volleyball court, Barron's job is to stop the attack without touching the net. Being mindful of the similar concept of attacking the ball in flight while avoiding contact with her arms or body helps her block shots without getting into foul trouble in basketball.
After surprising the Tri-Valley League with her athleticism her freshman year, Barron has emerged as the premier paint-protector as a sophomore. At 5-11, Barron is the only shot-blocker among Class 4A's top five who is shorter than 6-1. She relies on her quickness and intensity.
Falcons head coach Tina Skidmore said Barron puts fear into opponents with her defense. As the Falcons' strongest inside scorer and offensive rebounder, Skdmore added, Barron also takes pressure off the Skyline backcourt by sucking the defense inside.
But Skidmore said Barron's most intangible and desirable quality is the ability to energize her teammates.
"She's a big momentum-builder," Skidmore said. "When she swats a ball, blocks a shot, swats a pass out of the air, it's huge. Everyone, they get pumped up. That really lifts us up a lot. She's as close to the dunk excitement that we'll get."
The Falcons are 7-7 overall, 1-5 in Tri-Valley Conference play, but have been starving for home games. Boasting a 3-1 record at home, the Falcons are scheduled to play five of their nine remaining games at Skyline High. The Falcons are looking forward to the streak-sparking potential a regular friendly crowd provides.
To teams entering Skyline High looking to steal a win, it's worth noting that a shot-swatting sophomore protects the Falcons' nest. Her name is Naomi Barron and she has a broad wing span.
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