Memphis' Barton looks past size for success

Memphis' Barton looks past size for success

Published Jun. 20, 2012 2:55 p.m. ET

ATLANTA -- Will Barton eats. He swears it.

The NBA Draft
prospect from the University of Memphis carries the weight of his
professional aspirations as he works out for league coaches around the
country, but his interview sessions lately tend to center on actual
weight — the type that shows up on the scales.

“I eat a lot. I’m
serious,” Barton said with a laugh after a private workout with the
Atlanta Hawks. “I do pushups, I lift weights. It’s just a thing to where
I’ll never put on that much weight.”

Such questions have
persisted since his high school days, though nothing stopped him back
then. After averaging 20.8 points per game his senior season at Brewster
Academy in Maryland, Barton was tabbed as the nation’s top shooting
guard in the Class of 2010. And when he and his brother, Antonio,
spurned top colleges around the country for Coach Josh Pastner and
Memphis, talks of a revival ensued.

The news could not have come
at a better time for Pastner, who had recently been named the Tigers
coach. His predecessor, John Calipari, took most of Memphis’ 2009
recruits with him to Kentucky, the team’s top returning scorer decided
to forego his senior season and another top recruit — Latavious Williams
— backed out of his commitment to be drafted by the NBA’s D-League.

was expected to change the momentum of the program under Pastner.
Memphis was back in the national title picture, or so it was assumed.

But fast forward three years later and not much has changed.

still struggles to reach Calipari-esque heights, while Barton — who
declared for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season — possesses a
draft profile that reads similar to his high school scouting report:
aggressive scoring threat, versatile skill set, preferable height yet
oddly undersized. He averaged 18 points per game during his sophomore
campaign, but even as he confidently fielded questions in the Atlanta
Hawks practice gym Tuesday afternoon, his gangly frame never strayed far
from the conversation.

“[I’ll never be] necessarily bigger, just
keep gaining strength. They know I’m not going to be the guy who puts
on a lot of weight or be real muscular and stuff like that,” Barton
said. “The key was just to keep gaining strength, and they’ve been
saying to just make sure I can take hits, finish with contact, defend
bigger guys.”

History suggests that Barton will find a place in the NBA. 

shooting guard recruits in recent years have all found their way to NBA
rosters, including prominent players Eric Gordon, Monta Ellis, Louis
Williams, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. Even Avery Bradley, Wayne
Ellington, Martell Webster and Xavier Henry have carved out niches on
NBA rosters.

There’s also this little dose of reality: Will Barton has too much upside for 30 teams to pass on.

the size that he has forgivingly grown tired of answering for, Barton
improved all facets of his game last season—from shot selection to
defense. He even averaged more than nine rebounds per 40 minutes, an
abnormally high rate for a wing player, but he shrugged it off by saying
he “lives in the paint.”

“You don’t have to be skilled to
rebound. It’s something that you gotta want to do and have a knack for
the ball. Just be tough.”

Most draft analysts have him as a
fringe prospect dwindling on the fine line that separates late first
round and early second round prospects. The Hawks worked him out Tuesday
morning to see if he fits into their future, but a decision will need
to be made within the next week: Will Hawks coach Larry Drew or any
other NBA staff use a late first-rounder on a 175-pound scorer? Chances
are he won’t be there later on.

Barton possesses the air of
confidence one expects for a player who has been tabbed an NBA prospect
for so long, and it’s a quality that certainly serves him well in these
private workout settings and subsequent interviews. As the questions
about every one of those 175 pounds persisted, Barton continued on with
the nonchalance of a player satisfied with what his future holds.

“As long as I’m able to take hits, defend my position and rebound and do these things I need to do then I’ll be fine.”