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Next stop: Kuwait
Former Morrow star continues his basketball odyssey to the Middle East

By Zack Huffman

zhuffman@news-daily.com

When people think of Kuwait it is likely that Operation: Desert Storm and oil are quick to come to mind.

For former Morrow High School standout Jermaine Barnes, Kuwait elicits thoughts of basketball and opportunity.

After spending time playing professional basketball in Japan, while also spending time playing American leagues such as the ABA, URBL and the EBA, Barnes signed a contract Monday to play ball in Kuwait for a team known as Al Sahel.

According to Barnes, playing in Kuwait will be a potentially lucrative opportunity as well as the latest achievement in an already unconventional career.

"I'm going to the Middle East to get some of that oil money," Barnes joked. "All of the ex-NBA players go to the Middle East because they have the money. Their money doesn't run out."

Barnes is, perhaps, most excited about the prospect to play at a higher level of competition. While he has had a history of domination on the court, it was always in lesser leagues.

"I'm definitely excited to play in a top league, finally," he said. "I'm really looking forward to that challenge."

Not every player can get the chance to play in the Middle East. Barnes' ticket ran through the United Region Basketball League.

The URBL is a basketball minor league based out of Texas. As a member of the Ft. Worth Disciples, Barnes set a league record earlier this year, scoring 50 points in a single game.

Barnes was also awarded Most Valuable Player status en-route to a league championship for his team.

"After I won MVP, I started getting calls from everybody," he said. "I was just a hot commodity."

Barnes recently scored his first endorsement deal, when Jerome Dodd, the man who originally helped get Barnes an opportunity to play in Japan, signed him onto his own line of shoes and jerseys in the Japan-based company Hang Time Sports.

When he plays his first game with Al Sahel, he'll be able to play alongside Disciple teammate and former Clayton State University player Jerome Boyd.

"He was my big man and I wanted to play with him," said Barnes. "I had the pull to make demands like that and they took it."

Although now a "hot commodity," success has not always been easy for the Morrow native.

After a stellar career playing for the Morrow Mustangs, Barnes was preparing to begin his college hoops career.

In his senior year, Barnes averaged 18.2 points and 13.3 rebounds per game.

The University of Tennessee was heavily courting him and he seemed pretty set on moving north. The only problem was his grades.

He had the skills to play Division I, but he had lacked the scholastic discipline to get into the school.

Barnes had to settle for junior college.

He played for two years at Abraham Baldwin Community College before moving on to Georgia Southwestern University, a Division II school, in the Peach Belt Conference.

Adversity struck again for Barnes when a season-ending injury stranded him on the bench and ultimately led to him being cut from the team.

He completed his college career at Atlanta Christian College where he averaged 26.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game.

Following college, Barnes took any opportunity to play he could find. He played four games for the NBA summer league as well as 10 games for the ABA's Georgia Grizzlies.

In December 2006, Barnes received the opportunity to play for the Proline Kings in Japan. In his first season he averaged 42.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.

"I was playing in a small division, but I dominated the league," said Barnes.

The following year, he improved to 48.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game.

Last year, Barnes thought he had earned a ticket back to the United States to play for the Arizona Rhinos in the ABA. He left the team after three games amid growing conflict between owner Kisha Spellman-White and head coach Orlando Woolridge that would ultimately result in Woolridge's dismissal.

Barnes will board a plane for Kuwait July 20th, so he can prepare for the new season, which begins at the end of August.

"They're bringing me out early to acclimate me to the system," he said. "I'm very big on being prepared."