When it was announced in May that two-year starting point guard Trae Golden was leaving the program, Tennessee head coach Cuenzo Martin immediately faced adversity coming into this season. Most of the NCAA experts had Tennessee out of the NCAA Tournament without Golden leading the charge. With Golden, the Vols would at least be in the conversation for a berth.
Enter Baltimore native Antonio Barton, who decided to play his final year of eligibility away from the Memphis Tigers. Barton’s minutes had been cut behind the play of Joe Jackson, and he wanted a more prominent role. In Tennessee, he will now have the keys to the Vols’ offense.
Before Barton came to the state of Tennessee to play basketball, he had to endure to rough streets of Baltimore. Barton would play in the streets with older players who would make life difficult for him on and off the court. You have to be motivated enough to say no to the drugs, gangs and violence and focus on your future. Barton was able to stay out of trouble and landed a Division I offer to Memphis.
While at Memphis, Barton was on track to graduate in the summer, which would open up his availability to transfer elsewhere. When Barton made the announcement that he was leaving the program, he started quite the frenzy in the recruiting world.
The smart money would be on Maryland, due to Barton having a young daughter back in Baltimore. Barton trimmed his final list to Tennessee, Texas A&M and Maryland. When Tennessee’s Golden made his announcement to leave, that opened the door for Barton. He could have stayed at Memphis and played in a reserve role for a Top-25 team. Instead, he landed at Tennessee where he will have a prime time role.
When Golden left, the decision was very clear for Barton to take his place. Barton felt very comfortable with the coaching staff in Knoxville and fit their system better than Golden. Reading between the lines, you would believe that Barton is presumed to be much tougher than Golden.
Coach Cuenzo Martin wants the Vols to push the tempo and play a hard-nosed, tougher type of game. The word “soft” has been thrown out about Golden, and he constantly put the brakes on the Tennessee transition game. Golden’s 3-point abilities all but disappeared as the season progressed, leaving the Vols stagnant and incapable.
Barton is pretty much the complete opposite. He’s tougher, shoots the three better, and loves to get out in transition. Tennessee’s initial loss will turn out to be their gain in the end. It’s a shame for the program that Barton will only be eligible for one season, but they will make the most of his time in Knoxville.
Brian Lewis is an SEC Basketball Writer for RantSports.com. You can add him to your network on Google for more of his work.