BIRMINGHAM — The patience that Tony Toney used to endure the early part of the UAB basketball season was merely part of the equation.
Perhaps more importantly, he needed to be ready when patience was no longer needed.
“I told him, I understand your position,” said UAB’s Jelly Walker. “I was at Seton Hall, where I didn’t touch the floor. I was at Tulane, where the coach didn’t feel like I was good enough to play. I understand. I get it. But, I told him, all you can do is continue to work and continue to do what you’re supposed to do. The way this basketball stuff works, when you’re a good player, and you constantly do stuff to help the team, good stuff will always find you. Be ready.”
His opportunity came on the team’s road trip to Louisiana Tech on Jan. 14. It was the first of five games the Blazers played without Walker. Up until that point, Toney had played double digits in six games, and none of those appearances was during a close game.
Against Louisiana Tech, Toney, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound third-year player from Huntsville, was ready for his opportunity. He played 15 minutes and provided one of the biggest shots of the game, a 3-pointer that tied the game at 70 with 3:25 left and a steal in the final 25 seconds with UAB clinging to a 77-74 lead.
The following game, during the overtime loss at Middle Tennessee, he played a season-high 26 minutes and was a defensive sparkplug throughout. He officially earned an extended role in the rotation.
Since then, he’s played an average of 20 minutes per game over the next five games and will definitely be in the rotation on Thursday night when UAB visits North Texas in a critical Conference USA game.
“We talk about all the time. You never know when your number is going to be called, you better be ready for it,” UAB head coach Andy Kennedy said. “He’s been in this program for three years. He’s had moments. Like every freshman, we threw him out there, and you never really know what you’re going to get. Last year, I thought he was instrumental in us making a push about this time.”
In the past seven games, he’s averaged five points and three rebounds per game, which is up from the 2.7 points and one rebound he averaged in the one rebound per he averaged over the first 17 games. But numbers are not the best way to chart his contribution.
“Him playing (more minutes) now, you see, we are on a four-game winning streak,” Walker said. “He’s a huge reason, and it might not show up on the stat sheet. Everyone looks at the points or the rebounds. You look at Tony Toney. I would say his plus-minus is one of the best on our team.”
So what does he bring?
“Energy, defense, get everybody going, make sure everybody is locked in defensively,” Toney said.
DENIED by Tony Toney 🚫 pic.twitter.com/fpUPTqSGZr— UAB Men's Basketball (@UAB_MBB) February 3, 2023
Toney relishes that role.
"I take big pride in it," Toney said. "I blame myself if we don't have energy on the defensive end. That's what I come in to do. That's my role. I have to be a pest and get everybody going defensively."
Getting extra possessions is also part of what he does.
"He's a guy who brings us physicalness to our backcourt, some toughness, and he's a ball-getter," Kennedy said. "Ultimately, we need more ball-getters. This team has not been good in that aspect, 50-50 balls. We're negative on the year. You've got to have guys who go get the ball, and Tony is probably the best on our team."
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