Barbour again ready for another big finish

November 02, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

Elizabethtown High School hadn't made it to the state tournament in 14 years before Antwain Barbour's senior season, and there's no telling how much different Barbour's life might have been if they hadn't made it that year.

Barbour said he doesn't think about it much, but he knows playing in the state finals gave him his one chance to impress Kentucky coach Tubby Smith.

"The first time coach Smith saw me play was in the state championship," he said. "If we'd gotten beat in the second game or the third game, he wouldn't have seen me play."

Fast forward four years - "It went by really fast, faster than I thought it would," Barbour said - and he stands ready to break out again, just as he did in that 2000 state tournament.


His efforts to do that last season were hampered by a broken hand that sidelined him for five December games and sharply reduced his playing time for the rest of the season, and both he and his teammates say Kentucky fans did not see the real Antwain Barbour last season.

"I don't think anybody did," Chuck Hayes said. "We all know what the guy can do, we know his ability. It's up to An-twain to gather himself and try to get the old Antwain back."

Barbour said he's ready to do that.

"I just think this is my year," he said. "I really haven't showed anything as far as last year, just small flashes. People who've seen me play in the past know that."

The past includes a stellar senior season at Elizabethtown, capped by a remarkable run at the state tournament in which he averaged 26 points in four games to lead his team to the title.

His performance in the first three games of that tournament were part of the reason why Smith came for the finals, but Barbour said he wasn't viewing that game as any sort of audition.

"I was trying to win the championship then. I wasn't even thinking about college," he said.

Besides, Barbour said he knew all along he could play on the major college level.

"I think my destination was to play at a Division I school, but it might not have been at Kentucky," he said. "Out of JUCO I had a lot of looks."

He also had another championship, a national junior college title he helped Wabash Valley (Ill.) earn as a freshman.

Now he's looking to complete the hat trick with one more title at UK.

"That's why I came to Kentucky," he said. "Our goal is to win a national championship."

Barbour wanted to do more last season, and he got off to a good start, averaging 26 minutes and 7.3 points in Kentucky's first three games.

Then came the injury, and things were never the same.

"After that, I just kind of lost confidence, and that made things a lot harder on the court," he said.

It also made Smith less inclined to put Barbour on the court. Barbour played less than 10 minutes in 15 of UK's last 21 games, and his frustration mounted.

"When you start out playing 30 or 35 minutes a game, then come in and play three to eight minutes, it's a big adjustment for anybody," he said.

"The fear of being hit again or being hurt again is always there ... and he has done a good job overcoming that," Smith said. "We've been impressed with how hard he's worked. He's gained confidence, and he's ready to do a good job for us."

Barbour said the shooting touch that left him last season is back, and he figures to be an integral part of Kentucky's offense.

"It's over with, and now I'm back and ready to go," he said. "I think I'm a lot smarter on the court, and I can shoot the ball better. I can't wait to get started."

He will start a bit late, because he'll be suspended for the Wildcats' two exhibitions and one early regular-season game as a punishment for a marijuana possession charge in June that was later dropped.

Then he'll do his best to finish his tenure at Kentucky the same way things ended for him in high school and junior college.

"I love the game more than ever," he said. "I just want to have fun and enjoy it all."

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