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A Maverick who is team-first

Ex-Northeastern star Barea going with flow

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 19, 2010

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Jose Juan Barea’s assignment after catching on with the Mavericks in 2006 was to transition from an undrafted yet wildly explosive scorer at Northeastern to a more controlled rotation player in the NBA. He’s handled it easily, mostly by turning himself into Barea Lite.

“I tried to change my game a little bit at the beginning here, but coach kept telling me, ‘Stay aggressive, play your game.’ So that’s what I did,’’ said Barea, in town last night as the Mavericks played the Celtics at TD Garden. “I tried to stay aggressive and try to create for myself and create for others.’’

In his fourth year with the Mavericks, Northeastern’s second all-time leading scorer behind Reggie Lewis has carved a nice little niche for himself, averaging 9.1 points and 3.6 assists in 23 minutes a night this season.

“J.J. is a guy that’s probably always proved people wrong,’’ said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle. “He’s a smaller player. He became a prolific scorer at Northeastern. He’s improved his game as a playmaker and a guy who understands how he can get his teammates involved as well.

“He went from being a depth player early [last] year to becoming a primary rotation player for us as the season went on and he became a key player in the playoffs in our opening-round series. He’s given us a lot. He brings a dimension to the game that none of our other guys quite bring, so he’s very important to us.’’

After coming off the bench early this season, Carlisle inserted Barea in the starting backcourt alongside Jason Kidd in December for a stretch of games, during which the Mavs beat some of the league’s elite, including Cleveland, Denver, and San Antonio. But after going 0 for 4 in 15 unproductive minutes in the win over the Spurs Jan. 8, Barea found himself back on the bench.

“There’s always going to be an adjustment there, when you’re starting with Jason Kidd and Dirk [Nowitzki] and those guys,’’ Carlisle said. “It’s a different kind of game than if you’re waiting for the latter part of the first quarter to come in and now you’ve been sitting on the bench for a while. He’s done both and he’s done both effectively, he just needs to get back to the role of giving us energy, playmaking, shot-making, and defense off the bench.’’

“It’s different,’’ said Barea. “I started, [and] now you’ve got to come off the bench - you’ve just got to change your mind-set.’’

He was never able to reach the NCAA Tournament with the Huskies. But with NU currently streaking - the Huskies have won nine straight after beating UNC-Wilmington over the weekend - he took the opportunity to check on his alma mater.

“It’s always great . . . I went to school today, checked out my team,’’ Barea said. “New coaches, but they’re great guys. New gym, new stuff. They look good.’’

He’s had the luxury of playing with an MVP in Nowitzki and a gold medalist in Kidd.

“It’s awesome,’’ Barea said. “It makes my life easier having those guys around and having J-Kidd in front of me. Just to learn from him is the best.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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