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‘Fair assessment’ to consider this Barnes’ most talented roster at UT

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Rick Barnes believes this could be the most athletic roster he has coached while at Tennessee.

The Vols return possibly the most athletic player in the nation in Yves Pons and they bring in several talented freshmen. They also return sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James and snagged E.J. Anosike as a transfer.

Barnes was asked recently if this roster has a chance to be his most talented in the last five years.

“I think that would be a fair assessment,” Barnes said. “I think we have a chance to be a terrific defensive team when we get everybody to buy into it. I think we’re going to have the ability to do a lot of different things defensively. Some 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.”

Tennessee finished with the No. 4 overall recruiting class in 2020, according to 247Sports. It was the second-best class in the SEC.

Guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson are the headliners. Springer is the No. 16 overall player in the class, while Johnson came in right behind him at No. 19.

“Jaden understands what he’s doing and what he’s good at,” Barnes said. “He knows where to go and what he needs to get done. He’s a worker too. When I say worker, I think you guys know that is what our culture is built on. He’s a guy that has to get better at conditioning. Once he does, that’s going to take him to a whole other level.”

Tennessee’s other key player in the class is forward Corey Walker. The 6-foot-8 big man out of Hargrave Military Academy can stretch the floor as well.

“Corey is a step out guy,” Barnes said. “He’s got good skill but like those other guys he’s got to get in shape. Before he can do anything, he’s got to get in shape that it takes to play at the level we want things sustained at.”

Anosike joined the team as a transfer from Sacred Heart University, where he pulled down 11.6 rebounds per game as a junior. He was fourth out of all Division I players with 4.18 offensive rebounds per game.

He provides Tennessee with depth at the forward position and experience playing at the college level.

“Man, you’re talking about a guy that is a worker and very serious,” Barnes said. “He is going to do what he does. He can really rebound the ball because he really wants to rebound the ball. He’s worked very, very hard on his three-point shot. As you can imagine, he’s really good around the rim.”

The Vols will be looking to take another step under Barnes’ leadership this season as they play with one of the most talented rosters in program history. Still, the veteran coach wants the energy to start on the defensive end of the court.

“We’re going to need the young guys as we get into it to play the way we want to play,” Barnes said. “That’s a lot of pressure from start to finish, both ways. You want to play a 94-foot game both ways and we can.”

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