Interruptions are over for Kenwood’s Natasha Barnes, whose future is bright

Natasha Barnes’ path to a college scholarship and a starring role on one of the state’s top girls basketball teams has had a few twists and turns.

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Kenwood’s Natasha Barnes (3) shoots the ball against St. Louis Vashon.

Kenwood’s Natasha Barnes (3) shoots the ball against St. Louis Vashon.

Kirsten Stickney/For the Sun-Times

Natasha Barnes’ path to a college scholarship and a starring role on one of the state’s top girls basketball teams has had a few twists and turns.

But the Kenwood senior also has had some help along the way. Her mom, LeKesha Triplett, starred for UIC in the early 2000s.

“She’s helped a lot,” Barnes said. “Just like little stuff, her being in the position I want to be in and her achieving all the awards that I want to achieve — it just gives me the motivation and the personal kind of tutor to do those things.”

Like Triplett, Barnes will be playing Division I basketball, at Missouri Valley Conference power Missouri State. Getting recruited isn’t easy for high school players in the wake of the pandemic and amid the explosion of college transfers via the NCAA portal.

It’s especially hard for someone like Barnes, who is playing her first full season since she was a freshman. The 5-foot-9 guard started her prep career at Lindblom and had a brief stint at Example Academy, a prep school not affiliated with the IHSA.

She was at Kenwood last season, but had to sit out because of an IHSA eligibility ruling. Barnes at least was able to get her name out somewhat on the AAU circuit, though.

“Playing with MeanStreets, it just opened my recruitment back up and then just allowed me not only [to be] back playing basketball regularly but also getting coaches to look at me more,” she said.

There was plenty to see, and not just on the court. Barnes is a star in the classroom, too. She holds a 4.4 grade-point average and has completed all the requirements to graduate from Kenwood. But after not playing much high school ball till now and with the Broncos eying runs at the Public League and Class 4A titles, she is in no hurry to move on.

“I love my teammates,” Barnes said. “I ride with them all the time, no matter what.”

Barnes is one of three scorers averaging in double figures for Public League Red South-Central champ Kenwood along with sophomore Ariella Henigan and freshman Danielle Brooks. She said there’s no ego about who’s scoring, however.

The idea, Barnes said, always is to play the hot hand: “No matter who’s rolling — whether that be the freshman, whether that be me, whether it be the bigs — just try to get the ball to whoever’s rolling that day.”

Kenwood coach Andre Lewis calls Barnes a leader on and off the court.

“She’s a great person,” he said. “She loves the game, she plays with a lot of passion. Of course, she can shoot the ball which comes from [being from] a basketball family.”

Lewis believes Missouri State is a good landing spot for Barnes. The Bears have a rich tradition, which includes two trips to the Final Four and 17 NCAA Tournament berths, and Barnes has family ties to the area.

But before she embarks on the next chapter, Barnes and the Broncos have some more immediate goals.

“City and state, obviously,” she said. “Just playing our best basketball ... making sure we do all the little things right, playing together as a team, being there for one another.”

After having to watch from the sidelines last season, Barnes can’t imagine any better place to be than on the court, making plays and doing what she loves.

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