Sydney Kings great Jason Smith still remembers a teenage David Barlow as a 'cyborg'.
Smith was the grand final MVP and one of Barlow's mentors in the Sydney club's last championship win in 2004-2005 and as an established Australian Boomers and NBL leader, Smith knew Barlow was set for a long career based on his two-way play and his dedication to his craft.
Few times were more telling than when the 19-year-old Barlow and his teammates would undertake skin-fold tests.
"He takes his shirt off and he's a cyborg," Smith told The Age this week.
"It's incredible. I used to hate being in the gym when we would get our fat tested once a week.
"A really low score was low 50s, high 40s and he would turn in 30s. It was ridiculous, he was so consistent but you have to be ultra consistent to achieve those outcomes."
What's equally ridiculous is Barlow, now 36, continues to be a key player as his Melbourne United attempt to upset the first-placed Kings in their semi-final series beginning in Sydney on Saturday night as the Kings chase their first title in 15 years.
As Barlow reflected on his time with the Kings this week, his thoughts went straight to the impact Smith and fellow leader Matt Nielsen had on his development.
"I feel like it really moulded me as a player under Brian Goorjian and with people I still consider friends and mentors at [the] time like Jason Smith and Matt Nielsen," Barlow said.
"Everything I've achieved is, in part, because of that foundation. The success we had as a team was what you play for."
Smith, who was a model professional, is still in awe of Barlow's dedication to diet, stretching and weight training.
David Barlow takes on his former club when Melbourne United face the Sydney Kings in their semi-finals series opener.Credit:Getty Images
"If myself or others had an influence then it was him who picked those things up and turned them into habits really quickly," Smith said.
"You don't stay that way by being undisciplined and as you get older that becomes a really hard aspect to deliver on a day-to-day scenario."
Barlow will bring up 300 NBL games in game two of the best-of-three series at Melbourne Arena on Monday night. The only reason his tally isn't closer to 450 is he spent five seasons in Europe mid-career then battled some injuries.
It's telling Barlow has won four championships and holds the equal-record for most NBL grand final games with 25.
Melbourne battled through a wildly inconsistent year and only found form in recent weeks when they looked destined to miss the finals, with Barlow's form surging just as the team did to claim fourth place.
A broken thumb plus ankle and knee matters messed up Barlow's season but he's found his feet while a little push from Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman helped him start attacking the basket again after settling too often for a pass or shot.
"It was part situational but also mindset because of the way my body was feeling," Barlow said.
"Being at full health makes a difference but I still think I can offer something to help us win no matter how my body is feeling."
Melbourne won their opening game with the Kings and Barlow had 13 points but the Kings won the next three as foul trouble and low returns reduced Barlow's impact.
Melbourne captain Chris Goulding said keeping Barlow on court will be "massive part of the puzzle".
"We need him to be a pivotal part of this series," Goulding said.
"In previous games, especially in Sydney, he's got in foul trouble. So we need him to stay out of foul trouble and help him with his match-ups.
"He's super efficient, gets big buckets, talks defensively, and does all the right things."
Sydney Kings and Melbourne United play game one of their semi-final series at Qudos Bank Arena on Saturday at 7.30pm.
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