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Rick Barnes Talks Tennessee, Expectations and Fixing Hoops


New Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes joined the Chris Vernon Show in Memphis yesterday and had some really interesting things to say. He talked about goals for Tennessee this season, what he told the players and what he sells on the recruiting trail. You can listen to the full interview – Barnes comes in around the 41 minute mark here and his interview continues into hour no. 2 here.

Barnes on what he told the Tennessee players when he got the job: “My first comments were about me personally. How grateful and blessed I feel to have this opportunity. I wanted them to know that I don’t have a sense of entitlement to be the coach here or to be at this great university. As players I want them to feel the same thing. I actually said to them there are so many coaches that are more deserving than me to have a chance to sit in the chair I’m sitting in.

“And that there are players out there by the thousands that would love to wear Tennessee across their chest. So I don’t want any of us to take one day for granted. I want us to get up every single day knowing that we’ve been given a wonderful opportunity. Let’s make the most of it.”

On what he’s selling at Tennessee: “We sell the fact that we’ve got it all. There’s nothing here that we don’t have…I want players to dream big. I want them to dream of being where what we’re watching in the next couple days. I want them to see that. I want them to dream about being a part of that. But I also want them to dream about one day knowing that the air is coming out of that ball and when it does, what are you going to do? What is going to be your life?”

Barnes on the challenges at Tennessee: “We’ve gotta get going. We’re not going to let outside people set our expectations. We can’t do that. We have to set our own expectations and the goal would be to get to the NCAA Tournament. You get there and you’re one of 68 teams that’s playing for the whole thing. You know, we’ve seen Tennessee come from a play in game, or those first round games, to the Sweet 16. We’re going to work. As soon as we can get back at it. Talking about academically the things we need to do.

“We want a program, not just a winning team. We want a winning program. I am excited. I don’t know a lot about the roster, I really don’t. But between now and next year we’re going to get something together and we’re gonna, I’ll tell you right now our goal is to be a team that’s in that tournament next year.

“There’s no question. I don’t think I could stand in front of my team and tell them that we’re rebuilding. I don’t think you can do that…just like at Clemson – we were told we were going to be the worst team in the history of the ACC. The players knew it but we said we’re gonna set our own expectations. Again, I’m not going to shy away from expectations.

“In a year from now if we talk and you tell me that we didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, I’ll say we didn’t. We didn’t do what we wanted to do. There’s no doubt, our expectations are right now. I’m not concerned about what outside people might think. I don’t know everything about our team, but I can tell you what our goal is going to be to start with and I’ve already said that to those guys. We’re not in a rebuilding process here.”

Barnes on if expectations were too high at Texas: “I had really, truly, 17 great years there…When I was asked to do some things I just wasn’t willing to do – with all that said and done, there’s nothing but great things for me to say about my time there. But now I’m at the University of Tennessee and I can tell you I’m excited and almost feel like I’m getting back close to home. I’m truly blessed to have this opportunity.”

On the criticism he has faced for not making it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend since 2008 : “Well first of all, that’s the standard, that’s the standard that we set. I will tell you this: Don’t ever take for granted getting into the tournament. Our goal is – we went to a Final Four. That would be our goal – to get there and win the national championship….When you look back and reflect on your year, every year you reflect back on it, and the fact is if you’re part of that tournament, you have to get there to play for it all, but I don’t have a problem with expectations. I can tell you this – every year we went into that year wanting to be in the tournament, and every year we went into that tournament wanting to win it.

“Sometimes, you don’t always get the result you want. But that fact is you have to get up and keep fighting to get back. We know as a coaching staff, we had guys leave early for the NBA, we were scrambling at times to keep our roster intact because of guys putting their name into the draft early – some guys that didn’t even get drafted. There’s a lot more that goes on with every team than people can ever imagine…I don’t think outside expectations, for the most part, are higher than what coaches have for their own teams and their own expectations.”

On if criticism that he underachieved bothers him: “Everybody has an opinion and I respect everybody. I do think when you look at what we did, there’s a lot of great things that happened for us there. I’ll be honest with you, Chris. In sports, there’s gonna be critics. And they have a right to their opinion, they really do.

“Does it bother me? I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to it.

“That’s the one thing I was very blessed by. When I was a young head coach back at Providence College, I had the chance have a mentor by the name of Dave Gavitt…and Dave told me early in my career – ‘First of all, you don’t need to read anything because you know what people are saying. But you better be tough enough and smart enough to know who you want to listen to and know what you want to read.’ But more importantly, he said ‘you better focus on coaching your team and not worry about that.’ I will tell you, I’ve lived by that advice. I’m so blessed to have the career that I’ve had but I still think the best days are ahead.”

On if rules need to be changed to make college basketball more appealing: “Absolutely. I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a lot of things that we can do to make our game better. I think it should be a universal game. You look at the NBA – they are in the basketball business. So you know they’re thinking daily about how they can make things better. As you know they went through a period like what you’re talking about. Low scores. This and that. So I do think we should be playing with some of the rules that they play with.

“I do think the clock will come down to 30 seconds. I don’t think amateurs can play with a 24 second clock but I do think the NBA has the right lane. We should be playing with the NBA lane line. I think we should be playing with the NBA restricted area. I think in late game situations we should be able to move the ball to half court like they do.

“And rule wise. Refereeing. This next decision when the NCAA hires who’s going to be in charge of officiating across the board – I think that’s a really important hire. That person needs to be on the rules committee. There’s got to be some connection between referees around the country where referees are held at a very, very high level.

“Where they have to be evaluated. But it’s got to be a way where everything is really connected across the board. And we’re not there. We’re not there as a game. Too many people out there have different ideas but we’ve gotta fix it, I agree with you.”

On why scoring in college basketball has gone down: “Well I think we’ve gotten away – again when I talk about universal game I think it should be universal from the time the kids start playing. I believe that younger kids should be playing with a lower basket but also think we have not taken care of the game in terms of fundamentals. I don’t think there are enough skills taught at the lower level.

“I don’t think there’s enough emphasis placed on passing, catching, shooting. And I don’t think there’s enough emphasis placed on the mental part of the game in terms of understanding that it is a team game. And it is a team game. Knowing how to move the ball, pass the ball, there’s a lot of those types of as coaches that we all would like to see it at the very youngest level be emphasized.

“I do think kids are playing a lot more basketball than when I was growing up, but I don’t think enough emphasis during the summer months, the offseason, is placed on teaching the game and learning the skills of the game. The fact of the matter is if you want to score the ball, you gotta be able to put the ball in the basket. And I can tell you, coaches are out there and, with a shorter shot clock, I do think there’s going to be a premium placed on players that can shoot it.”

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