Antonio Barton fitting in 'perfectly' for Tennessee Vols

Antonio Barton fitting in 'perfectly' for Tennessee Vols

October 25th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

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KNOXVILLE -- Antonio Barton is the new kid on the block for Tennessee's basketball team.

To the Memphis transfer and his new teammates, though, it seems like the he's been around much longer than just a couple of months.

The Volunteers' nucleus of returning players reached out to the guard during the offseason as he decided on his next move after leaving the Tigers, and they welcomed him to the program after his August arrival.

The next step in the transition comes on the court.

"I'm jelling with the guys very well on and off the court," the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Barton said before Tennessee's practice at Pratt Pavilion on Thursday. "More so off the court because that's what matters the most, bonding together. But on the court, everything seems to be falling in place perfectly.

"The off-the-court relationship affects the on-the-court relationship. If you've got a bunch of guys who doesn't like each other off the court, then it's not going to work on the court. Building a relationship off the court is what matters the most."

Though the Vols like what they've seen already from freshman Darius Thompson, a spring-signing-period addition from Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Barton likely will slide into Trae Golden's vacated spot as the starting point guard.

Barton played both guard positions during his three-year career at Memphis, and though he considers himself a combo guard, he and Thompson figure to share the primary ball-handling duties for Tennessee.

"He's been good," third-year Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Starting last week, midway through last week and this week, you start putting more set plays in, and he does a great job adapting to plays. We'll do more of a motion offense where there's a lot cutting and moving and reading, reading the defense, but he's done a good job so far.

"He's better than I thought he'd be at this point."

On a team with leading scorer Jordan McRae back along with two All-SEC forwards in Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon, Barton's blend of defensive toughness, shooting ability and experience is a nice fit.

As a freshman in 2010-11, Barton averaged 8.2 points in 13.3 minutes per game and led the Tigers in scoring six times. The Baltimore native scored 21 points against the Vols in a double-overtime Memphis win in the Maui Invitational and tallied 19 against Tennessee in the rematch in Memphis. In three seasons, he shot 41.7 percent on 3-pointers.

"It really seems like 'Tone's been here two or three years already," McRae said.

According to Josh Richardson, Barton was making 3s from the "T" in the "Tennessee" that sprawls across midcourt in Pratt in Wednesday's scrimmage.

"I think he's fit in perfectly," said the junior guard. "He's the kind of point guard that we wanted to come in and be able to push the ball and handle it. He's done a great job of that so far.

"We didn't need no more confidence. We've seen him give us 20 two times my freshman year. Once we heard he was transferring, we was like, 'Aw, yeah, we need this guy.'"

Barton played in an up-tempo system at Memphis, and the Vols hope he can help in that area.

"We're going to run a lot," he said. "Coach [Martin] emphasized that he would like to get it out and run less plays as possible and get in transition a lot. We're working with guys' conditioning and getting guys out on the wing quicker."

That would be a departure from the grind-it-out style Tennessee used in Martin's first two seasons. With McRae, Stokes and Maymon, Tennessee doesn't lack scoring options. Richardson's offseason taken strides as a shooter, and he, Barton and freshman Robert Hubbs should help the Vols create better spacing for its two bruisers.

"He fits in pretty well," Stokes said. "He's in the gym early. He pretty much is just what we needed. We needed a guy that can push the ball. I'm definitely looking forward to running the floor this year. We needed a guy who can push the ball, a guy who pick [defensively] 94 feet. He's definitely fit in. He complements a guy like me and Jeronne because he can shoot the ball."

Though he's the new part of an established team, Barton said he's trying to lead, earn his teammates' trust and take control as a point guard.

"I can do a lot of things defensively and offensively," he said, "and I make a lot of guys better."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com