Antonio Barton has been on his own before. Just three years ago, the East Baltimore native suited up for Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., while older brother Will starred for Brewster Academy in New Hampshire.
But the 2009-10 school year was an aberration for the Barton brothers. From City to National Christian Academy to Lake Clifton, Will and Antonio were inseparable. That relationship continued at Memphis, where the former Lakers stars guided the Tigers to back-to-back Conference USA tournament championships.
This year, however, will be different. With Will set to begin his rookie season with the Portland Trailblazers, Antonio is flying solo this year at UM.
“It’s going to be a little difficult,” Antonio Barton admitted. “We haven’t been apart for that long. It’s something I’ve got [to get used to]. We can’t always be together in life. We have to learn how to cope without each other. … [Will] told me to come in and play and be the athlete I am. He’s my biggest fan. [He said], ‘Don’t worry about being alone’ and come in and play my game.”
Though he misses his brother and the two text each other every day, Antonio Barton remains focused on what he has in front of him – not what he’s left behind. In two seasons with the Tigers, Barton has experienced his fair share of team and individual highlights. As a junior, Barton appears poised for a big jump in production.
“I’ll be counted on a lot,” Barton said. “[I’m] always counted on to be a scorer, since my freshman year. [I’m] going to expect a lot more minutes.”
As a sophomore, Barton averaged 21.9 minutes, starting 19 of Memphis’ 34 games. His numbers – 6.6 points and 2.3 rebounds per game – were modest, but those statistics speak more to the Tigers’ balance than anything else.
When Memphis called on Barton, he regularly delivered. During a four-game stretch at the end of December leading into January, the 6-foot-2 ½, 180-pound combo guard led the Tigers in scoring in three games: 16 points in a 67-58 win over Charlotte; 19 points in a 69-51 win over Tennessee; and 13 points in a 60-58 win over Southern Miss.
Playing combo guard in coach Josh Pastner’s up-tempo system has worked well for Barton.
“If I’m heating up beyond the arc, Coach will move me to the 2 and set me up for more jumpers. If he’s trying to control the tempo, he’ll have me at the 1,” Barton said. “Point guards should know every spot on the court. For coach, I’ll come in and play the 1 and the 2 [and you] can’t plan against it.”
Barton said he spent most of his summer in Memphis working on his ball-handling, defense and cardio. As one of five remaining players in Memphis’ seven-man 2010 recruiting class, he’s looking forward to taking on more of a leadership role this year.
“We’re hungry this year. We’re more mature, know the system, know what the coaches want,” Barton said.
Barton, who expects to earn his degree in sports management and leisure before his senior season, has much to look forward to this season. His 3-year-old daughter, Skyy, will visit him next week for Memphis Madness, and he will – as always – have her in mind as the Tigers’ 2012-13 campaign gets under way. Barton is hopeful that Skyy, Will and the rest of his family will be able to see Memphis play into April.
“It just starts like a new year,” Barton said. “I look at ... the goal, which is to win the national championship, which we can. We can never lose focus on that.”
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.