As we continue to wait for the start of the college football season, there was some big college “hoops” news across the state this week. The Tennessee mens’ basketball team got a big boost when former University of Memphis point guard Antonio Barton announced he was transferring to Knoxville and will play his senior season with Coach Cuonzo Martin’s Vols. How can Barton play with the Vols right away you ask? Because the NCAA transfer rule states that if an athlete graduates from one institution, and still has eligibility remaining, he can request a one-time transfer to another institution. He must then enter graduate school in a field that was not offered at his first school, and if approved, he would be able to play right away. When you consider the fact that the Vols lost starting point guard Trae Golden at the end of the 2013 season, the addition of Barton could complete the puzzle.
“We’re excited to have Antonio Barton on board,” Coach Cuonzo Martin said this week. “He’s a very talented young man. He makes shots, he makes plays at the rim and he can really facilitate the offense.”
Facilitating the offense has been a real weakness for the Vols the past two seasons. Trae Golden was a talented player, but he would occasionally have lapses in directing things on the floor. He was also very streaky at times. Barton gives the Vols some stability as Coach Martin decides which of his talented newcomers will eventually be able to get the job done.
Barton is a 6'2" true point guard who has played a lot for the Tigers. In fact, he leaves Memphis as the school’s second-ranked three point shooter. (41.7%) He has never shot less than 40% from behind the arc, and he has been especially tough on Tennessee. In the 2011-12 season, he scored 21, and 19 points in two games against the Vols.
Barton has basketball on a high level in his blood. His older brother, Will Barton, completed his rookie NBA season this spring as a member of the Portland Trailblazers. And if you’re wondering why bitter cross-state rivals such as Tennessee and Memphis would actually take one of the other team's players in the fold, it’s simple to figure out; Coach Cuonzo Martin is in his third season as Tennessee’s head coach. The 2013-2014 season is crucial for him, as his team has failed to make the NCAA Tournament in each of the previous two years. A third straight NIT bid, or worse, would have the wolves at his door.
With the return of a healthy Jerrone Maymon to team with all-SEC big man Jarnell Stokes up front, as well as talented Jordan McRae, the Vols have at least “Sweet 16” potential; maybe even “Final-Four.” The addition of Antonio Barton makes the Big Orange even more formidable, and that’s really good news for Coach Martin.
ESPN has taken notice of the Vols’ potential as the network has scheduled Tennessee for two appearances on the big “Super Tuesday” coverage this coming season. “Super Tuesday” is a doubleheader featuring a game from the Big Ten and one from the SEC each Tuesday night.
As Cuonzo Martin continues to wrap up the top prep players in Tennessee each season in an orange package, (Dyer County’s Robert Hubbs III in 2013) the probability of success will continue to grow. Finding an experienced, talented point guard like Antonio Barton, from a big-time program is a real coup for the Vols. Only time will tell.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).