After an underwhelming freshman season, sophomore point guard Anthony ‘Cat’ Barber has grown up in his second year with the Wolfpack, becoming a legitimate two-way threat.
No stretch has better showcased the brilliance of Barber than this past month. Since his breakout 23-point performance against Georgia Tech Jan. 31, Cat is averaging a team-high 16.5 points and 4.1 assists per game.
Additionally, Barber is shooting 50 percent from three-point range in the last eight games, a vast improvement from his shooting percentage of 24 percent on the rest of the season. The sophomore’s field goal percentage has also improved from 41 percent to 46 percent.
Based on his recent play, Barber is delivering on the promise he showed back in high school, when he was one of the top recruits at point guard in the nation. While known for his elite speed, his improved maturity in his second year in college has reignited talk of a future career as an NBA point guard.
If Barber can make it in the pros, he wouldn’t be the first from his region. Hampton Roads, the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the southeastern United States, has played host to some of the greatest athletes to ever come from the state of Virginia.
From NFL players Michael Vick and Lawrence Taylor to NBA All-Stars Allen Iverson and Alonzo Mourning, the Virginia Peninsula has seen its fair share of professional talent.
But in the winter of 2011, Hampton Roads was buzzing over a new homegrown talent: Hampton High School sophomore Anthony Barber. Known to most simply as ‘Cat’ because of his dizzying quickness and formidable reflexes, the young phenom was making waves in Virginia Beach.
Barber led the Hampton Crabbers to new heights as a junior, boosting the team to a 27-6 record and their first Virginia state championship since 1997. Barber capped his high school career with a total of 2,097 points, making him the all-time leading scorer in Peninsula basketball history.
With basketball recruiting sites like Scout and Rivals ranking Barber as the ninth-best prospect in the nation, committee members at the 2013 McDonald’s All-American Game began to take notice. The yearly All-American game has produced such NBA talents as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James along with past legends Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Future NBA players Aaron Gordon, Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins were all featured in the 2013 game alongside Cat.
In front of thousands of fans watching to see the future athletes of college basketball collide, Barber shined, scoring 11 points along with a team-high four assists, highlighted by a mid-air behind the back pass that had the United Center in Chicago rocking.
Since arriving in Raleigh, the point guard has had his fair share of struggles. No one knows better than Barber that limiting turnovers is something that the 6-foot-2 sophomore must improve; however, for moments such as the past month, Wolfpack fans have seen why Cat was one of the most prized point guards in the 2013 recruiting class.
When looking for comparable professional players, Barber’s devastating quickness and killer crossover have drawn parallels to fellow Hampton native Allen Iverson since high school, but I believe that two former ACC stars, Ty Lawson and Ish Smith, lend themselves to better comparisons.
Lawson, a former Tar Heel and a current starting point guard with the Denver Nuggets, has always been well noted for his speed, but it’s his ability to penetrate and drive that has really set him apart in the NBA.
Barber’s aptness to get in the lane has reminded NBA scouts of Denver’s Lawson, but they will also tell you that Lawson’s shooting ability is far better than that of the Pack guard. At times in college, Barber has struggled to find a shooting touch, which has caused opponents to sag off and focus on limiting his driving capability. It’s been the sophomore’s improved shooting percentage in the last eight games that has caused defenders to once again respect Barber outside the paint.
The player that I think most resembles the Pack point guard is NBA journeyman Ish Smith. Although Smith has never played more than one season with any NBA team, he has always found a landing spot in the league because of his speed.
Smith, currently with the Philadelphia 76ers, played four seasons at Wake Forest from 2006-2010. Smith, like Barber, is best known for his lightning pace, but it was often times his greatest strength that sometimes played against him. Smith finished with 84 turnovers in his sophomore season, an average of 2.8 turnovers per game, an area in which Cat has also struggled.
Barber has 17 games this season in which he has turned the ball over three times or more.
Since entering the NBA, Smith has been able to better limit his number of turnovers and solidify himself as a formidable assist man. If Barber can improve his decision making ability, he should start to become more and more attractive to NBA scouts.