HAMPTON ——With Hampton's Anthony Barber, you wonder how a 17-year-old high school junior has so much self control. Especially when many grown men twice his age do not.
It was another of his fearless drives to the rim. And like so many times before, Hampton guard Anthony "Cat" Barber ended up getting hammered by two or three defenders and crashing to the floor.
"I've been taking hits since I was a little kid," Barber said. "That doesn't faze me. They bang me up but I just keep moving and going to the line. My body's become used to hitting the floor."
Fast-forward to the regional final two nights later. Twenty minutes before tipoff, Barber is sitting on the baseline stretching his legs. The Kecoughtan student section is giving him what-for. You're overrated … You're going down … Hello Kitty! Cat continues to stretch … and smile.
"I know they're there, but I don't pay them any mind," he said. "I'm getting used to it."
The game starts, and things are ugly. Barber's jumper is off — everyone's is, for that matter. He has a couple of turnovers, misses some shots he shouldn't, and has a couple of calls go the other way. Yet when you look for any signs of frustration, there are none.
"He never gets rattled," Warriors coach Ivan Thomas said.
But later, Barber jukes a defender nearly out of his shoes and flies in for an and-one layup. Does he pound his chest, raise his arms to the crowd, or star down the opponent? Nope. He returns a teammate's high-five and walks to the free-throw line, his face no different than it was when he missed those jumpers.
You have to wonder: How does a 17-year-old high school junior have so much self control? Especially when many grown men twice his age do not.
"My dad (James) never shows emotion," Barber said. "He's always the same person, and I guess I got it from him. No matter if we're winning or losing, I'm still going to be the same no matter what — to my people, to my fans, to my peers and my teammates."
Longtime assistant Eric Brown says Barber, who on Wednesday was named Eastern Region Player of the Year, reminds him of two revered Crabbers from the past.
"We had two like that: One was 'Monstar' (Gary Smith) and the other was Ronald (Curry)," Brown said. "It's rare, but most of the players we've had who were very, very good, that's the way they play. They don't wear their emotions on their sleeve."
There's plenty to like about Barber's game, from his cat-like quickness to his toughness and savvy. But opposing coaches, officials, and recruiters also respect his demeanor on the floor. He'll need that playing in front of 25,000 lunatics in the ACC or SEC, or wherever he is two years from now.
ESPN.com ranks Barber No. 24 overall (and No. 4 point guard) in the Class of 2013. He and his father are not making every offer public knowledge, but known ones so far include Virginia, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Providence and Kansas. Others, like Duke, are showing strong interest.
Unlike his buddy Troy Williams at Phoebus, Barber does not have a Twitter account to provide updates on his recruiting. Williams says he plans to make a decision this spring, but James Barber stresses there's no hurry.
"He's only in the 11th grade, so he's got a whole-nother year to see what he wants to do," James Barber said. "I always tell him to break things down to see where he really wants to go to."
Barber's closing in on 6-foot-3. His build is wiry but sturdy. Some have tested his strength in the past. Nobody does anymore.
Though not a classic shooter, Barber is a scorer in the mold of Washington Wizards guard John Wall. Entering Saturday's Group AAA quarterfinal against Osbourn at Kaplan Arena, he's averaging 21.4 points a game. He led the Peninsula District in scoring at 21.0 ppg as a sophomore.
For his career, Barber has scored 1,469 points in 76 games (19.3 ppg). He's on pace to break the Peninsula District all-time scoring record currently held by former Bethel guard Tony Rutland (1,976).
Like most high school juniors, he's not a finished product. He'll be the first to tell you his jumper needs work.
In the last three games of the Eastern Region tournament, he was 23-of-62 from the field with most of the makes from close range. He was 23-of-35 (65.7 percent) from the free-throw line.
Yet with his scoring ability and overall game, both physical and mental, Barber was named co-Player of the Year in the district this season with Bethel's Aaron Bacote. Thomas said Barber could have won another award.
"He could have been the most improved as well," he said. "I was fortunate enough to coach him in the summer in AAU, and he's gotten better. Some of the weakness he had in his game, he's gotten better at them. I'm extremely proud of him."
OSBOURN (23-3) VS. HAMPTON (24-5)
WHAT: Group AAA quarterfinals
WHEN: 2:45 p.m.
WHERE: Kaplan Arena, Williamsburg.