Everything Vols coach Rick Barnes said about college basketball and Tennessee on Monday

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media via Zoom on Monday.

Barnes discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, the college basketball season and went in-depth on many players on the Vols roster.

Here is everything Barnes said:

ON DECISIONS OTHER CONFERENCES HAVE MADE AND BASKETBALL EXPECTATIONS

“From where I sit and this is my opinion, we have to get football going first. I don’t even think with basketball, obviously as a conference, we have been talking about certain things and not anything drastic to be honest with you. I think it is so important we see these next couple weeks how it goes with students being back on campus. We have to get football up and going. That is the first and foremost thing. Depending on how that goes, we will come up with plans. There is no doubt. I am on a Zoom call later this afternoon with some people to talk about those type of plans. I think Danny Gavitt came out and said some time in the middle of September, they might have something. I don’t know why we say September. Our first game wouldn’t be until November (11). I don’t know why we don’t wait as long as we possibly can. I just believe that maybe being an optimist that we are going to go on time. What might happen with some of the places where we might have tournaments like New York or Charleston, those kind of places. There has been dialogue about moving those to Orlando. There are a lot of teams that are in those that are going to lose games because the other team is not starting until January. I think if football goes well, I think some of these schools will reconsider. Understand that when the Big 10 made their announcement, we got a call the very next day from Wisconsin saying we are planning on playing here in our opener. We will wait and see.”

ON WHAT YOU COULD DO THIS SUMMER AND WHERE PROGRESS IS COMPARED TO USUAL

“If we are behind schedule, it is being behind with our younger players that didn’t get a full summer of what it really is like. They didn’t get a taste of that until the last couple of weeks they were here in July. We didn’t get to compete. I have used the analogy. This summer felt like going to a driving range, going to a putting green and going to a short game area but never getting to play golf. That is what the summer was because they weren’t allowed to play. They weren’t allowed to have competition with one on one or two on two or three on three or four on four or five on five. When we got back, we did that for the first time this past Friday. That was the first time they have competed since we got back from Nashville. With that said, I think we got a lot. I think it helped. We really took it back to the bare basics in terms of fundamentals and got things done we wanted to get done. We always spend the offseason working on guys’ individual weaknesses. Our older guys, if you asked me are they behind, I would say they are not in terms of understanding the grind and commitment that goes into what you have to get done every single day. The younger guys are still coming along with it. They are good, talented players, but it is new to them.”

ON A BUBBLE FOR COLLEGE BASKETBALL

“There has been all kinds of thoughts because there are some coaches out there that are talking about. I am one of those guys that I just think we need to pump the brakes on a lot of things and see what happens with football and how that goes. I think when people talk about the bubble is this, most universities have gone to where they are going to finish up school by Thanksgiving. The whole month of December, if you take ESPN, they could take the Maui Classic and the Jimmy V and they could bring them all down there to a bubble for teams that are going to lose opponents because they are not going to play until January, when those tournaments are over, put some teams that want more games together for games at a site like that. All those ideas have been tossed out and will be tossed about. I personally still think we have to slow down a bit and see what happens and see how things go these next couple of weeks before we get to kick it off.”

ON YVES PONS’ DECISION AND ITS EFFECT

“We always want guys to get all the information they can. There is so much unknown this year. There is so much uncertainty. When players were allowed to have agents the last couple years, agents are going to do everything they can, I think, to get them to go into the draft. With that said, there were people at that point in time saying there is not going to be a college basketball season. There were so many uncertainties. The NBA backed everything up. It wasn’t a typical year. The one thing we knew with Yves is he is a very well thought out person. That is there for him to go through to have a chance to interview with NBA teams. I do think every NBA team that interviewed him was more impressed after talking to him because they understood what we know about how hard he works, his commitment, how much better he wants to get every day. He is hearing it from a lot of different people. He thought it out with his circle of trust and his people back home. Is he a difference-maker? Absolutely. He has improved. I think this year will give him a chance to walk into the NBA through the front door. I believe that. The growth he has made and will continue to make, he works. He has a chance to really be in that league for a long time.”

ON KEON JOHNSON, JADEN SPRINGER AND VICTOR BAILEY JR

“All three of those guys give us versatility. They can play multiple positions. All three of those guys have the ability to be a lockdown defender. Plus that is three guys that can play off the dribble and create some shots for themselves and also for their teammates. I think VJ is, from a conditioning standpoint, obviously being in college as long as he has been and sitting out a year, he is ahead of those guys from a physical place. The other two have to get themselves in shape. That is where this summer, we weren’t able to get them in the peak conditioning we want to have them in. I am not just talking physically, I am talking the mental side of it. Learning how to continue to play when you are tired. Learning how to concentrate and think and how to carry yourself when you are tired. You have to kick the through the wall there. They haven’t had a chance to really do that the way we like to. These next couple of weeks will be important to them. From a talent standpoint, all three of those guys are talented. They give us versatility. We need that. We haven’t been as versatile as I think we can be this year.”

ON EJ ANOSIKE

“Man, you talk about a guy that is a worker. Very serious. He is going to do what he does. He can really rebound the ball because he really wants to rebound the ball. He has worked very, very hard on his 3-point shot. He is really good around the rim. He is a worker. He is a guy that goes in the gym and after you spend time with him, whatever it is you are working with him on, he is going to go back and journal it and keep up with it. He is very serious. He along with Yves and John and Olivier, who has had a great summer, Uros didn’t get back as early as he would like to. Those four post guys have had great summers.”

ON MANAGING PLAYERS AND THE SITUATION IN THE PANDEMIC

“I don’t think there is any doubt for me that we have to play an NCAA Tournament. We have to play it. If we don’t, it will make it almost impossible for a lot of schools — and I am not talking about the Power 5. The money that some schools get, it might be $300,000 from the NCAA Tournament, which is a lot of money for a lot of people. If they go two years without it, I just know we have to have a tournament some way some how and we will. But you can’t have an NCAA Tournament without doing some kind of regular season and doing something. What we have told our guys is what I am telling you. I think we are going to play basketball. Right here today, I think we will play on time. We don’t know how all of this will play out. We know how far we have come since we started with this pandemic. I know how on our campus, we have had unbelievable leadership. I know in the athletic department, what we did this summer, our guys did a terrific job doing what we asked them to do. They haven’t really been in a locker room since they left in the spring. We do everything in Pratt with our chairs spaced out on the court up there. That is where they dress. That is their locker for right now. When we are in the weight room lifting, they wear masks. When they are on the court, they don’t wear masks but we wear masks. We told them, we are going about it like we are going to play and until they tell us not, we are getting ready for our first game against Wisconsin on November 11. I think that they are young. I think that they are going one day at a time. They have done that. They have locked into that. I just feel like they are going, unless something happens and everything is so fluid right now and can change day to day, but I am firm believer that we are going to play basketball.”

ON YOUR SUMMER DURING THE PANDEMIC

“In terms of family, we weren’t going to travel away. We really pretty much hunkered down in Knoxville. We weren’t going to jeopardize anything to go see our family — our kids and grandkids in Texas. Obviously, my son lives in the Middle East. We were here. Had a group of guys that we walked a lot. Did a lot of that. I got into hunting golf balls. I lost some weight. Did all that. The fact is, I really tried to do what everybody else should have been doing. I think everybody did. I took very seriously what was going on. We pretty much stayed here the entire time.”

ON THE ROLE MOVING FORWARD FOR JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES

“I would put him in those group of guys we’re talking about with versatility. Josiah, he’s played a lot of different (positions) here. He is a guy that is still just scratching the surface of what he can do. As always, he works hard. He’s ready. We’ve done everything we could to make sure that we get him healthy and keep him healthy. I was impressed with what he did. I told each guy certain things (to do) while they were away from us, what they should do. One with him was flexibility. I felt like if he could just really improve his flexibility it could help him in a lot of areas. He took it really seriously. He really did. He got to where, sitting on the floor, legs straight out in front, he could bend maybe to a 45-degree angle. Now he can put his head between his legs. So he really worked at it. He took it very seriously. But he’s a guy, again, that I think is going to play all over the court for us.”

ON SANTIAGO VESCOVI

“Maybe in some ways he had the best summer because they played. He’s back, he’s in better shape, he looks leaner. We’ve watched him workout and play. I think he’s improved. The biggest thing a year ago, he never really had a chance to get himself in the kind of shape he is now, and the kind of shape he will be in by the time we get ready to kick it off. He’s just such a smart player. Understands his game. Everybody likes to play with him. When we watched him play a little bit, he’s pretty sharp right now because of what I think he did while he was back home playing.”

ON THIS ROSTER HAVING A CHANCE TO BE HIS MOST ATHLETIC TEAM AT TENNESSEE

“I think that would be a fair assessment, I do. I think we have a chance to be a terrific defensive team if we get everybody to by into it, because I think we’re going to have the ability to do a lot of different things defensively. Things we haven’t done in the past. Offensively with what we’ve done and where we are, we can be better there too, obviously. This group is athletic. I go back and think of John (Fulkerson) and Yves (Pons). They’re here, it’s important that they step up and be the leaders because I think your best teams are going to come when you have great leadership from them. Both of those guys aren’t the most outgoing people on the court, but John has gotten much better. Yves has too. That’s the step that those guys have to take for us. And help those young guys to understand what we’re up against. Help them make that quick adjustment because we’re going to need those young guys as we get into it, to play the way we want to play. And that’s a lot of pressure from start to finish, both ways. We want to play a 94-foot game both ways if we can.”

ON JOHN FULKERSON

“I think what happened a year ago, with everything with Lamonte (Turner’s) injury, Santi coming in, the fact that we had to make ourselves over so many times, once we decided we were going to really play through John and Yves. I think that helped him more than anything. For some reason, toward the end of February, or somewhere in February, the light went off where he became a different person. His approach changed. I’ve asked him about it. I actually asked him a couple weeks ago, ‘John, how much did that injury your freshman year set you back?’ And he said, ‘A lot more than I thought.’ Because I could never understand why he was holding back. But I think the way he finished, I think if we had another month of the season, I’m not so sure he wouldn’t have been the player of the year in the league. He’s a guy that, even though we weren’t here, we stayed in touch with our guys everyday and he worked at it. He’s been back on campus and he’s really working at it. We’ve told him for his future that he’s going to have to expand his shooting ability, to step out further, which he’s capable of doing, he just has never honestly put the time in to make it a big part of his game. But he’s doing it now. His body finally, you look at him, he’s gotten bigger. And there’s no rhyme or reason to how that happens, some guys just take a little longer but he is starting to get the kind of strength you want him to have. But he’s very focused. I do think he’s added some things to his game. He’s a guy we trust with the ball. He’s a guy we think can make plays with the ball. His energy, we just have to keep him getting better. That’s what we have to do with all of them. He’s hungry for it right now. He and Yves both are two guys — I’d put EJ (Anosike) and I’d probably put Olivier (Nkamhoua) in the groups of guys — they are really after it right now. They really want to make a difference. Josiah, we’ve worked with him on some things. We’ve got some guys that really want to get after this, so that’s a good thing.”

ON UROS PLAVSIC

“Uros came back with a little more weight on him, which I thought was good. You can see his body kind of starting to develop too. I think his biggest thing, again, is getting him to understand what he’s really good at and play to that. I think one, he’s going to get a great daily, when you think about John, Yves, EJ, Olivier and him, those guys are going to get to compete everyday. That’s going to help him as much as anything. But he’s a worker, too. He’s in the gym. He came back. He was quarantined for a couple weeks. By the time he got ready to go, everyone was sort of getting ready to go home for a week there, with a break. I think he’s just going to have to learn to really play in tight spaces. He’s going to have to learn to quit dribbling the ball as much as he likes to. He doesn’t need it. He’s just going to have to get it out of his game. He’s learned how to start getting his position on the court, where he wants to be. But he’s going to have to do his work early and understand when he gets the ball, he’s going to have to make a little bit of a quicker play with it, opposed to thinking about I’m going to make this move or that move. He’s got to get lower. There’s no doubt he has to get lower and learn to play down a little bit. But we’re all happy with him being back here because he’s such a fun guy to be around everyday. He’ll be fine. He will. He’ll be able to do what we need him to do before it’s all said and done.”

ON JADEN SPRINGER

“Conditioning. There’s no doubt, his conditioning. I would say the same thing for Keon. I would say the same thing for Corey. They’ve all got to get themselves to a point where they understand what conditioning really means. What Jaden does, he understands what he’s good at and when he gets in a game, when they’re playing, he knows where to go to get done what he needs to get done. He’s a worker too. But again, when I say worker, I think you guys all know that’s what our culture is built on. He’s a guy that, conditioning right now has got to get better there. Once he does, that’s going to take him to a whole different level.”

ON THE POINT GUARD POSITION

“What I’d like to do is let the best rebounder be the point guard. Whoever gets it, go with it. That’s one thing we were able to do with these guys individually. We tried to teach them all what goes into playing that position. And I’ll tell you it’s the hardest position on the court to play. But our thoughts are, if those can get (the rebound), go with it and create. If they can go where we want them to go with it. That’s what we like to see, opposed to just one guy out there that can handle the ball. Because we do think we have a chance to be a terrific rebounding team. Whoever is out there, we’d like to think if they get ahold of it, they can go with it.”

ON COREY WALKER

“Getting in shape. He’s got to get in shape. He’s going to have to get himself (in shape). Again, I’d say this for most of my guys going in. Our normal summer, they would’ve already been there (conditioning wise). They would’ve had it figured out and we would’ve gotten them a lot further along than they are right now. Corey, he’s a step-out guy. He is. He’s got good skill. But like those other guys, he’s got to get in shape. Before he can do anything, he has to get himself in the kind of shape that it takes to play at the level we want things sustained at.”

ON POSSIBLY REDSHIRTING A FORWARD THIS SEASON

“Yeah, I do. I think we could look at it and see. I don’t want to waste any of these guys. Again, we would never redshirt somebody if we didn’t think they had a future. Thats something we would never decided until we got closer to the opener, probably. But yeah, I do think there’s a possibility that we can do that this year.”

ON HOW HIS COACHING STAFF HAS ADAPTED SINCE MARCH, BOTH IN RECRUITING AND ON-COURT WORK WITH PLAYERS THIS SUMMER

“They’re the best. I’m telling you, I’m blessed that I have the best staff and support people around that there is out there. The one thing that they, even going into this year, they were two years out in front recruiting. They know what they’re doing. They’re experienced. They work well together. They help each other. Whatever they need to do, they’re going to do that way with it. They’ve taken advantage of what we’ve had to do with the Zoom calls or whatever. They’re on top of that. With the players, they’re coaches. In recruiting, whatever they tell me to do, I do. But I’ve said it before, those three guys that I have right now, they’re ready to head any program in the country. They work at it, they know how to deal with people. They understand players, they work hard with players. They like being in the gym. But with all that being said and done, they still put a lot of time in, time they spend in the gym with guys, daily vitamins. Then obviously recruiting is a non-stop schedule for them. Believe me, I’m thankful and blessed that I’ve got these guys because the chemistry with them is really, really good.”

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it. 

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