Sweet 16: Antonio Barton, Memphis

Antonio Barton heard the whispers and read the comments.

The 6-foot-2, 170-pound point guard -- some people said and wrote -- was just riding older brother Will Barton’s coattails to a high-major basketball scholarship.

“It was just like rumors on the internet,” Antonio Barton said. “I would read it. [They said] that I would be a good practice player, or I was just a throw-in for my brother. Those type of things.”

It took all of one game at Memphis for Barton to show how foolish those anonymous commenters were in their dismissal of him. In Barton’s first career regular-season game, the 2009 Lake Clifton graduate scored a game-high 17 points, in addition to contributing five steals, four assists and three rebounds in leading the Tigers to a 104-40 win over Centenary.

That game was the first of many in which Barton proved that he not only belonged at a big-time basketball school, but that he was one of the most promising freshman point guards in the game. On the season, Barton was Memphis’ fifth-leading scorer at 8.2 points per game. He started 12 games for the Tigers, who finished 25-10, including a 10-6 mark in Conference USA.

Needless to say the thought of proving people wrong served as motivation for the former Baltimore Sun second-team All-Metro selection.

“I couldn’t wait to get to practice,” Barton said. “I never let what people say get to me. I never got upset by what I heard. I just pushed harder. It made me stronger.”Josh Pastner landed commitments from the Barton brothers two months after he was elevated to head coach. Will got most of the attention, but Pastner said he was just as excited to add Antonio to his roster.

“Most people thought, ‘Oh, you took Antonio just to get Will.’ Absolutely not,” Pastner said. “That was the perception, but had anyone seen this kid play? Has anyone done an evaluation? This kid can flat-out play. He helped us win a lot of basketball games. He’s a hard-nosed, blue-collar, does-his-job, low-maintenance, old-school basketball player. That’s who he is. And we were fortunate to have him. I love the kid. I mean, he was our leading scorer in the NCAA tournament game. That guy’s a player and we were fortunate to have him. I knew that he was going to be a good player when he signed.”

That NCAA tournament game – a 77-75 opening-round loss to Arizona – was probably the most high-profile affirmation of Barton’s ability to play at the high-major level. Barton got the start for the Tigers that day. In his 35 minutes of action, he scored 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting (including 3-for-4 from 3-point range) and grabbed four rebounds.

The individual highlight of freshman year for Barton, however, came in a 63-62 win at Central Florida in February. Barton scored 14 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer – on an assist from his brother – as time expired.

“It was thrilling,” Barton said. “I couldn’t believe it was happening. We were down. It was just a feeling as good as can be expected.”

Said Pastner: “I think he definitely had a chip on his shoulder. He played terrific. He had a great freshman year. You look at what he did in shooting at the end of the game [against UCF]. He stepped up big time and helped us get the W.”

Barton, who did a post-grad year at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., after helping Lake Clifton to an undefeated season that culminated with the Class 3A state championship in 2009, spent most of his summer in Memphis. He worked on adding strength, developing his point-guard skills and improving his mid-range game. Barton, who’s interested in studying sports management and criminal justice, also took classes. He said his GPA is just shy of a 3.0.

Barton did carve out some time to come back home to Baltimore, where he said he spent much of his time visiting his 2-year-old daughter Skyy.

“She knows exactly what’s going on,” Barton said. “She came to a couple games. She ran on the court a couple times. Every time after games, she’ll come into the locker room. She knows her daddy is here trying to make a better future for her.”

On the court and off, Barton’s off to a good start at Memphis in making that happen.

The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.

Previous Sweet 16 selections:

C.J. Fair, Syracuse

Brandon Young, DePaul

Sean Mosley, Maryland

Devon Saddler, Delaware

Devin Brown, Holy Cross

Eric Atkins, Notre Dame

Brendan Bald, Vermont

Jamar Briscoe, Charlotte

Dylon Cormier, Loyola

U.S. Presswire photo of Antonio Barton by Peter Aiken / March 18, 2011

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