Just so there’s no confusion come game time, when a public address announcer refers to North Carolina State guard by his given first name of Anthony, “Cat” Barber is really the name you need to know.
His nickname was given to him by his sister, but it could have been coined by anyone who has ever played against him. He’s that quick. There’s not another point guard in college basketball who is as fast from Point A to Point B with the ball as Barber.
This isn’t about his speed.
In this one-and-done era, where players are drafted before they show big steps in developing, Barber is a reminder of what used to be the standard in college basketball.
(No need to get misty-eyed -- the old days are well behind us.)
He’s an example of a player who gradually has progressed in his first two seasons with the Wolfpack and is ready for the breakout season that could make him a household name in college hoops. Think Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky as a junior, before he was a national Player of the Year candidate.
“Some kids mature differently than others and kind of come into their own or become confident at different times,” NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. “I think right now Cat is ready for that role and, even verbally, I think he’s ready to handle that. We’ll see.”
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound junior said he’s ready to play 40 minutes per game if that’s what it takes. And realistically, it may take Barber averaging at least 35 minutes for the Pack to be their best.
The Pack’s success this season is inextricably tied to how well Barber can lead and perform. Barber has gone from being a player who generated cringe-worthy plays to this season being the guy that will bring a calming presence to the lineup.
Barber had no idea how to control his speed as a freshman. He’d often make bad decisions based on thinking he was fast enough to get out of sticky situations. He’d drive the lane with nowhere to go with the ball, which is partly why he shot just 40 percent from the field as a rookie.
But without Barber’s elevated play the second half of his sophomore season, the Pack would not have made the NCAA tournament, much less knocked off No. 1 seed Villanova en route to a Sweet 16 appearance. Over the last 14 games, he averaged 15 points and four assists, which includes him lighting up Pittsburgh for 34 in the ACC tournament. (He averaged 12.1 points and 3.7 assists last season.)
“I do think part of the deal with Cat is being comfortable, confident,” Gottfried said. “Now he knows as an upperclassman, he’s going to carry the load more than he did in the past.”
N.C. State has a young team this season. Barber, with his 51 career starts, is the most experienced player on its roster. He already has shown signs of being the big brother on the team, even going so far as to tell his teammates to pick up after themselves because the locker room was getting too messy.
Barber isn’t the loudest guy and doesn’t have the biggest personality. He’s soft-spoken to the point that from the outside he appears to be shy. But on this roster, he has to be the Alpha male.
N.C. State has a thin frontcourt -- the transfer of Kyle Washington leaves the Wolfpack with just three scholarship post players: Abdul-Malik Abu, Beejay Anya and Lennard Freeman. Trevor Lacey’s decision to turn pro means the Pack will have to break in a new starter at shooting guard.
Junior Terry Henderson, a Raleigh, North Carolina, native who transferred from West Virginia, has the experience that will make him the likely candidate to start alongside Barber. They’ll also have plenty of youth on the perimeter with sophomores Caleb and Cody Martin as well as freshmen Maverick Rowan, who reclassified to join the class of 2015, and Shaun Kirk.
Other than Barber, none of the Wolfpack returnees averaged more than six points per game last season. Henderson averaged 11.7 points for the Mountaineers as a sophomore, but it still means the lineup surrounding Barber will be largely unproven offensively.
That’s OK in college basketball, where great point guard play can compensate for many shortcomings. The stage is set for Barber and he’s poised to run the show.
“Even at times last year when Cat was really good, he still could look over there and see that other guy (Lacey) that he knew could bail him out if he needed to in one way or the other,” Gottfried said. “Now the responsibility rests a little bit more on his shoulders, but I think he’s ready to handle it.”