Lindblom’s Natasha Barnes Prepared for Leadership Role as Sophomore

Whatever issues on the floor there may have been a year ago, the Lindblom Eagles’ Natasha Barnes expects to be the problem-solver this time around.

For Lindblom to break through in the Chicago Public League Red-South/Central, Barnes must fill that role in her sophomore season following a strong summer of ball with Example Sports AAU. An aspiring engineer who lists her GPA as a 4.4 on her Twitter, Barnes wants to become the type of person who fixes what’s not working.

“Learning new things, being able to mess up and being able to try again, you have to persevere, figure out what’s the problem and work,” Barnes said. 

“If there’s a problem on the court, whether it’s between teammates or the other team, you have to be the leader and step up,” Barnes added. “If you know what the problem is, you have to try and put in a solution to fix that problem.”

The Eagles had their own trouble from time-to-time in the midst of a mostly successful 2019-2020 campaign, finishing 19-8 with an appearance in the regional finals. Coach Dan Lawson, entering what he said was either his 21st or 22nd season as head coach of the Eagles, is frank about some of those problems. In Lawson’s mind, Barnes did not progress as much as she should have in her freshman season.

“The team dynamics did not allow for Natasha to flourish to the capacity that she could have,” Lawson said. He added that those dynamics didn’t allow “for [older players] to accept the fact that they had a very talented freshman, [when they could have] applauded and accepted and utilized [Barnes], rather than be intimidated by and feel like her success was going to potentially take away from their success.”

Barnes expects to lead Lindblom to a successful season this winter after a summer campaign with Example where she teamed with now-sophomore Eagles teammate Hailey Hillman. Barnes said the pair have a good dynamic with one another, and that she is excited to carry that over into this season. The pair were third (Barnes, 8.4 ppg) and fifth (Hillman, 5.7 ppg) on the team in scoring according to MaxPreps, with the other top scorers all graduating.

Barnes says she tried to incorporate her varsity coaches’ persistent lessons while playing mostly in tournaments in Indiana over the past few months. 

“This past summer, I tried to be more of a leader on my team,” Barnes said. “I encouraged them if they missed a shot, encouraged them to ‘keep going.’ … And if they’re not getting back on defense I’ll them, ‘I know you’re a little tired, you’ve got to push through.’”

Lessons in the midst of last year’s season from Lawson included attacking the rim more often on offense, being a vocal leader and having the confidence to lead at all times without backing down. In film, Barnes sees the floor well, has size at 5-9, handles the ball with proficiency and plays suffocating on-ball defense.

This season she wants to go to the hoop with more frequency and confidence, and shoot better from mid-range — something she has worked on a good deal this summer. She already had her three-point shot down, which is on display from film highlights posted to social media. 

Barnes, whose friends call her ‘T,’ was already a dynamic on-ball defender, something she shares with her mother, Kesha Triplett, who earned the nickname “Spida” for her suffocating man-to-man defense while playing for UIC. 

That defense, Lawson said, is what ultimately secured Barnes’ starting spot after not initially starting to begin her first varsity season. 

“Defense is something we stress, and the reason she earned that position was because of her defensive effort,” Lawson said. “We’re a really tough defensive team, man, and we press.”

This past June, Lawson said he had an hour-long conversation with Barnes and her mother about what he expected of Barnes. That conversation Barnes recalls as setting the table for a 4A regional title — and taking charge so her teammates, especially the young players, are prepared for this upcoming season. 

“I told her this summer, ‘You know what? I can build a team around you, but you have to have the courage to accept that responsibility,’” Lawson recalls telling Barnes.  “‘And you’re going to have to outwork everybody. If I build this team around you and give you an unlimited carte blanche on your credit card, you’re going to have to earn it. You’re going to have to outwork everybody. You’re going to have to have a voice.”

Playing on the same floor as other talented, Division I-level Chicago-area players for Example Sports wasn’t altogether new for Barnes. Competing in the Chicago Public Red-South/Central against the likes of Simeon, Kenwood, Phillips and others in the high school season — The Eagles played Whitney Young and Example Sports standout Timia Ware (LSU verbal commit) to a tough 79-65 loss in the city playoffs  — Barnes worked to grow this summer in competition and in her own time in the gym.

Often, Barnes finds herself thinking how she wanted to be the best player on the court of her AAU games. She knew there was uncertainty about being able to play this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said she’s been thankful to keep playing. Right after finishing the summer campaign, she was trying out once again to retain her spot for Example Sports for the fall and next spring. 

This winter she wants to demonstrate the mindset she’s enhanced of trying to be the best player on the floor any time she steps on it. But as Lawson asks of her, on the court, she must be humble even while leading. AAU ball has helped instill that. 

“It definitely raises your IQ level, and it brings out things you need to work on,” Lawson said. “Those type [of] games, your confidence and your ability to do things has to be on a high level because you also have other teams that have really great players.”

Lindblom has been a winning team for a handful of seasons. As Lawson stated, “I’ve had an amazing crew the last six-to-eight years.”

Back in 2020-21 are seniors Iyana Shelley, a facilitating guard; Ann Marie Lawrence, who Lawson said stands out at volleyball; and forward Keva Wilson. New contributors will come from the sophomore and freshmen classes, some of which were on the team that Lawson coached and Barnes played on that won the eighth grade city playoffs just a few years ago.

But much hinges on Barnes’ continued development.

“I wanna see her have a breakout year,” Lawson said. “I wanna be around to see her growth.”

She knows that Lawson’s expectations are high.

“I definitely expect coach to be on my head, definitely,” Barnes said. “Me being the next incoming captain of this team, … if I’m messing up, he’ll tell me I need to pick myself up and be better.”

And to be better, Barnes must continue being the problem-solver.

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Photo: Kesha Triplett 

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