When "tough" was the first word Antonio Barton said after he was asked to describe his playing style, it became apparent why the point guard transferred to Tennessee for his senior season.
The former Memphis player changed sides in UT's biggest out-of-conference rivalry over the summer after tussling for playing time on a Tigers squad that boasted a loaded backcourt.
He quickly saw the Vols as a better fit.
"I walk into a bunch of guys who are similar to myself," Barton said about his teammates. "We don't have too many McDonald's All-Americans or guys who were top 10 (or) top 20, but a bunch of hard-nosed guys who are willing to get down in the dirt."
The Vols may not be as loaded with young stars as the Memphis team Barton is familiar with, but, according to him, that does not change the team's season goals.
"We have a lot of talent," Barton said. "With the newcomers, the guys that are returning, we have talent in all areas from guards to down low – even guys coming off the bench."
Since Trae Golden transferred to Georgia Tech in July, Barton will likely assume the starting role on a squad that includes first-team All-SEC guard Jordan McRae and impact forwards Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes along with a deep bench.
Barton has been welcomed heartily by his teammates, whom he scored 40 points against in two contests between UT and Memphis in the 2011-2012 season.
"They've accepted me as if I've been here since a freshman," Barton said. "We compete every day, even off the court we sit around, have fun, we talk, go out to eat and everything.
"Through the whole recruiting process, (Vols players) texted me every day," he said, "and we talked as if they knew me all their life. So that just made me feel comfortable."
No matter how comfortable Barton feels in Knoxville, his decision to transfer received mixed reactions from Memphis, where Tigers head coach Josh Pastner played a huge role in the recent ousting of the annual Vols-Tigers matchup.
"Everybody was shocked," Barton said of his former teammates and coaches. "Some people had their negatives, some people had their positives ... I just accepted it. You can't please everybody in life."
As for McRae, he sees a new dimension from the incoming addition that will help him and fellow wing players to get out in transition.
"Seeing how he played at Memphis, he's not the type to dribble the ball up the court," McRae said. "He wants to advance-pass up the sideline. Especially with the athletes we have on the wing, so he'll be really good for us to make us faster."
McRae, who garnered talk in NBA draft circles after a big 2012-13 season and a busy summer that included visits to LeBron James and Kevin Durant skills camps, continued to brag on his new backcourt partner.
"He's a hard-nosed player, the kind of player who's going to pick you up full-court and guard you close the whole game," McRae said.
According to Barton, some of his toughness comes from reactions when he joined Memphis as a package deal with older brother Will Barton — now in the NBA.
"I've been playing with a chip on my shoulder all my life," Barton said. "People saying I was a throw-in coming into Memphis with my brother. I don't let it get me down, I just use it as motivation."
After playing a backup role for one of college basketball's perennial contenders, Barton could have stepped into a situation that offered more of a chance to be the star. But that is not quite what he wanted.
"With me transferring, I didn't want to go anywhere where I would score all the points and we wouldn't win," Barton said. "I wanted to come somewhere where I could compete and be a contender for a national championship."
National championship? Those words have hardly been floated around the Tennessee hoops program, even throughout the Bruce Pearl era. But, according to the Vols' newest addition, it's far from impossible.
"Yes, we have the talent," Barton said, "it's just up to us to come in and work and get better as a team everyday."