SACRAMENTO -- Harrison Barnes went to India and got confused for a cricket evaluator.
No, we're not kidding.
Earlier this month, the Sacramento Kings small forward traveled to the country that will host his team and the Indiana Pacers for two preseason games in October and stopped in the Mumbai suburb of Dharavi to play the game of cricket with a few kids. Before Barnes knew it, the group grew from five kids to 20 to 45.
"As soon as I started making contact, it's like 45 kids now," Barnes told NBC Sports California at Golden 1 Center on Wednesday. "And they are lined up in a perfect line, and I'm like 'This is an end-of-the-game free throw, this is a lot of pressure right now.' And so we play and the kids are having fun and having a great time, and I was like 'That was really dope, all those kids kind of came and just wanted to hang out.' And one of the guys was like 'Well, they actually thought you were a cricket evaluator, so they were trying to get picked up for the Mumbai Indians, they were trying to further their career.'"
In case you're wondering, the Mumbai Indians are the recently crowned champions of the Indian Premiere League.
Barnes, as you know, is not a cricket talent evaluator. He's an NBA champion who is now, at the age of 26, one of the elder statesmen on the up-and-coming Kings squad.
Before the Kings head to Mumbai for a few days in October, Barnes got a sneak peek of India, taking in the sights, sounds, culture and food during a seven-day trip.
While Barnes flew into the Indian capital of Delhi and spent time at the Jr. NBA Academy in Noida, he also traveled to Mumbai and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.
"I had a chance to do sightseeing, did the Jr. NBA camp in Delhi," Barnes said, "had a chance to go to Mumbai, experience some of the culture there and then got a chance to see the Taj Mahal, so it was a lot packed into a week, but it was good."
Barnes has traveled all over the world, but he had never been to India. While experiencing a new culture was important to him, lending a hand at the Jr. NBA camp in Noida was a big draw for Barnes. He's worked with the Jr. NBA camp in Iowa, where he's from, so doing this work fell in line with what he was already doing.
But for any American, spending time in India can be a culture shock.
"I kind of just went with an open mind," Barnes said. "I didn't have any expectations. I knew it was going to be different from anything I'd experienced before, so you know, just going there and riding in a rickshaw, doing things like that, it was pretty fun to try things differently and we actually had a lot of fun."
Barnes admitted that the biggest culture shock for him was when his group went to India Gate in Delhi on a Sunday night. They weren't expecting much of a crowd since it was a working night.
Boy, were they wrong. The crowd was overwhelming and Barnes' guides wanted to turn back. But he persisted and said he wanted to experience it.
"You hear about a billion people and you’re like, ‘What does that look like?’" Barnes said. "And it was just so many people that it was like a sea. We got through there and we get to India Gate, we take the pictures, we chill out a little bit and just seeing stuff like that, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s crazy seeing this many people here on a Sunday night.’ It’s a work night, people are going to work tomorrow, it’s not a holiday, there’s just so many people there, I was like ‘Wow, this is pretty crazy.’"
Barnes said that he has been in communication with his Kings teammates about what they can expect in October and offered some advice to help them adjust once they step foot in India.
"For me, what made the trip very easy, I love Indian food, I’ve had it many times here in the States," Barnes said. "So for me, it was very easy, I was able to go over there and order, I didn’t even need a menu, I could just order different things. I’m kind of comparing the taste of what I’ve had here, what I’ve had there. For the guys that haven’t had Indian food, I’m like ‘You should probably try it here so you get an idea, you get familiar with things. You can go there and compare.’"
The two October preseason games are the brainchild of Kings owner Vivek Ranadive, who is from Mumbai. So before Barnes embarked on his trip, he touched base with his boss for tips on how to best experience the country.
"He was like ‘It’s going to be a great experience, you like to travel, so that’s a good thing. It’ll give you a perspective on everything that’s going on,’" Barnes said. "But he was like ‘But, it might be different for you. It’s going to be an assault on the senses, so just be aware of that, be ready to embrace that. As long as you welcome India with open arms, they’ll welcome you back.’ Everything he said was right on point."
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For someone that grew up in Ames, Iowa and went to college in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, traveling to India expand the game of basketball is pretty surreal.
"This is probably the biggest surprise and one of the biggest things I’ve really enjoyed about being in the NBA," Barnes said. "Basketball has taken me all over the world, places I never thought I’d go. My first time getting on a plane was for basketball purposes, my first time traveling out of the country was for basketball purposes. So, now to be able to go see all these different places because of the game of basketball, because the game is growing, because there are NBA fans all around the world who want to hope to someday play in the NBA or just enjoy watching the sport, it’s bucket list after bucket list experience."
Now that Barnes has a leg up on his teammates, don't be surprised if he gets confused for a tour guide in October.