KNOXVILLE — Tennessee's basketball program received a big boost on Sunday.
With a void at point guard following the departure of rising senior and two-year starter Trae Golden, the Volunteers and third-year coach Cuonzo Martin took the transfer route.
The effort netted former Memphis guard Antonio Barton, who picked Tennessee as his destination over the likes of Texas A&M and Maryland and will be immediately eligible once he graduates.
Though Barton did not return a message seeking comment from the Times Free Press, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard from Baltimore confirmed his commitment to The Associated Press.
"I'm so excited," he told the AP. "I'm just ready to get started as quick as possible. At the end of the day, I have to do what's best for me."
Will Barton, Antonio's older brother who played with him at Memphis and just finished his rookie season with the Portland Trail Blazers, broke the news on Twitter shortly after noon Sunday.
"My bro Antonio Barton has decided to attend the university of Tennessee for his senior year where he will be allowed to play right away," Will tweeted.
A source inside the Tennessee program confirmed the tweet later Sunday afternoon via text message and added that Barton "hopefully" will sign with Tennessee on Tuesday.
In three seasons and 95 games with the Tigers, Antonio Barton averaged 6.9 points per game and shot 41.7 percent on 3-pointers. He averaged 8.2 points per game as a freshman and scored 21 and 19 points in two games against Tennessee as a sophomore. In a junior season that saw him miss a month, the former three-star recruit, who's not a true point but can play the position, averaged 5.6 points and 16.7 minutes in 25 games in a crowded backcourt.
Golden's departure earlier this month, which one source said was due to academic problems, left Tennessee with a hole in the lineup. The Vols signed Murfreesboro guard Darius Thompson this spring and released Travon Landry, who's since signed with New Mexico State, from the national letter of intent he signed in the fall. When Tennessee began its pursuit of Barton, it appeared the Vols would have to hope the unproven Thompson was ready to make an immediate impact or play one of its wing players, like Jordan McRae or Josh Richardson, out of position.
Yet it appeared unlikely the Vols would land the transfer, who never took an official visit to Knoxville, though he played Tennessee four times with the Tigers. The Aggies had an advantage in assistant coach Glynn Cyprien, the former Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Kentucky assistant who recruited the Barton brothers to Memphis in 2010. Maryland looked like a good option given its proximity to Barton's hometown.
With the Vols, who return leading scorer McRae and talented post players Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes and insert five-star shooting guard Robert Hubbs, Barton may have found the best situation from a basketball standpoint.
"Tennessee had the best chance of me coming in and winning -- not only playing right away," Barton told the AP, "but they have all the pieces from shooting guard to small forward to even guys coming in off the bench and the coaching staff."
Tennessee and Memphis have an agreement in principle to a four-year renewal of their annual rivalry series, but the Vols and Tigers won't play each other next season.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...