When former Volunteer point guard Trae Golden transferred to Georgia Tech this summer, a weak spot was created in a team hoping to contend for an SEC Championship in the 2013-14 season.
With Golden's departure, the Vols were left with two incoming freshman point guards, Darius Thompson and Travon Landry, as well as walk-on Brandon Lopez, who played in 17 games last year, averaging 5.8 minutes per game.When UT released Landry's national letter of intent on May 4, the team's uphill battle at the point guard position got even steeper.
That's when head coach Cuonzo Martin and his staff got to work. Three weeks later, the Vols landed Memphis point guard Antonio Barton, who chose to transfer for his final season of eligibility after graduating early.
Barton, who averaged 7.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in his three seasons at Memphis, will give the Vols some much needed experience at the position, and in Martin's eyes, he will also bring some more toughness to a team where physicality is a cornerstone.
"He's a guy that has a tremendous level of toughness, and he competes at high level," Martin said. "...Antonio had an injury his junior season, so he kind of got defaulted out of the starting lineup and the rotation because of the injury, but he did a great job of keeping his composure and not complaining or making excuses and when I talked to (Memphis) coach (Josh) Pastner, that's one of the things he said about the kid was that he brings his hard hat everyday and that's the thing that impressed me about him.
"Plus, he beat us up quite a bit, so you want a guy like that, you don't want to play a guy like that."Barton tagged UT for 19 points in a 69-51 Tiger victory on Jan. 4, 2012.For somebody who will be playing with Barton on a game-to-game basis, redshirt senior forward Jeronne Maymon is excited to get on the court with him and thinks he will be an asset to the Vols on both sides of the ball.
"He's aggressive on both ends, so I think that's really going to help us," Maymon said. "We have a floor general who is going to set the tone early on their point guard, and I think that is really going to help us and how we go about things. I like Antonio's game and I like what he brings to the University of Tennessee."
Although Barton has been a part of the Tigers squad for the past three years, Martin said that the guys have done a seamless job of easing Barton in as a member of the team."These guys did a really good job of communicating with him throughout the summer," Martin said. "They talked to each other so they built great relationships so his transition was a lot easier, but the first time I talked to him he talked about these guys and their production and what he could bring to the table, so that transition was easy."
While the Barton acquisition was the big news of the summer for the Vols, he will not be asked to shoulder the point guard load alone.
Thompson, though just a freshman, has been the target of some high praise from Martin who raves about his instinct and knowledge of the game.
"He is a guy that is 6-foot-4 and can make passes," Martin said. "He has a tremendous IQ for the game, a great feel for the game, he has a pace to his game and keeps a high level of composure. I think he'll be fun to watch, the kid knows how to play basketball."
Lopez will also be in the running for minutes at the point guard position. Despite being the third option, he has become a mentor for the young point guard.
"He's a guy who has really helped Darius Thompson this summer with his ball pressure, getting up in them and being aggressive, and that helped Darius's game and he needed that, and Lopez gave it to him." Martin said.
The Vols will get to test their point guard play in the season-opener against sophomore point guard Semaj Christon, who averaged 4.6 assists per game in his freshman year for Xavier.
The Vols will take the Musketeers on Nov. 12 in Cincinnati, Ohio.