Antonio Barton announced following Sunday church services that he plans to enroll at UT as a post-graduate transfer from the University of Memphis. This gives the Vols a puzzle piece they previously lacked – a guy who boasts significant experience as a college point guard.
Barton started 12 games as a Tiger freshman in 2010-11 and 19 games as a sophomore in 2011-12. He was relegated to a backup role as a junior last season behind Conference USA Player of the Year Joe Jackson. Rather than spend another season backing up Jackson, Barton decided to graduate in June and transfer as a post-grad to a school where he can start in 2013-14.
Tennessee certainly affords him that opportunity. The Vols do not have a scholarship point guard on their roster. Instead, they have a junior walk-on (Brandon Lopez), three wings who have played some point (senior Jordan McRae, junior Josh Richardson, sophomore Armani Moore) and a combo guard (Darius Thompson) who will be joining the team as a freshman this fall. McRae started a few games at the point last season but will not play the position this season because head coach Cuonzo Martin wants him free to focus on scoring rather than distributing.
Barton posted 142 assists in his three seasons at Memphis, committing 109 turnovers in 109 games.
The 6-foot-2 Baltimore native averaged 8.2 points per game as a freshman, shooting 46.3 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. He slipped to 6.6 points and 40.0 from 3 as a sophomore but improved his field-goal percentage to 48.2. Coming off the bench exclusively as a junior, he again shot 40.0 percent from 3 but saw his scoring average dip to 4.6 and his overall field-goal percentage slip to 39.7.
In 109 games at Memphis Barton averaged 6.9 points per game, 45.3 percent from the field, 41.7 percent from 3 and 66.1 percent from the foul line. He had two of his best performances against Tennessee as a sophomore in 2011-12. On Nov. 22, 2011 he hit 8 of 11 field-goal tries, 4 of 5 from 3 and his only foul shot en route to 21 points in 33 minutes as the Tigers beat the Vols 99-97 in two overtimes at Maui. He came back six weeks later to hit 5 of 7 field goals, 4 of 5 from 3 and 5 of 5 foul shots en route to 19 points in 23 minutes as the Tigers won 69-51 in Memphis.
Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon project to give Tennessee one of the top post tandems in college basketball this season. Rawane Ndiaye, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound junior college signee, provides depth, along with 6-foot-8 sophomore Derek Reese. Richardson returns as the starter at small forward, with senior D'Montre Edwards, plus sophomores Armani Moore and Quinton Chievous challenging. A.J. Davis, a lanky 6-foot-8 freshman, could figure at small forward, as well.
McRae returns at shooting guard after making first-team All-SEC in 2012-13. He might find himself moving to small forward, however, to accommodate heralded freshman Robert Hubbs if the five-star signee proves as good as advertised.
On paper, the Vols appear good to excellent at every position except point guard. Thus, the addition of Antonio Barton just might prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle.