Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media following No. 10 Tennessee’s 103-49 win over Tennessee Tech on Friday night inside of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Barnes discussed his team’s performance, the play of true freshman Jaden Springer, playing Josiah-Jordan James at the four, John Fulkerson’s presence, getting Yves Pons going offensively and how Springer and Keon Johnson have handled coming off the bench.
Here’s everything Barnes had to say:
On the performance of freshman guard Jaden Springer:
“He was terrific. I thought he really played within himself. He had a great feel for what he was looking for. Taking care of the ball was huge. His assists were terrific. Jaden really understands where he wants to get the ball for himself. He obviously is a very good finisher, midrange, close to the basket, he is great at that. He has worked really hard on his 3-point shot. I thought he showed great balance. Defensively, he continues to get better overall there. We know he can guard the ball. I just though he was terrific all the way around tonight.”
On senior forward Yves Pons taking a step forward on offense:
“With Yves, I want to see Yves get to the foul line. We know he has his little soft quick-ups. I want to see him attack the rim more. We want to get him to the foul line. He works too hard not to do that. Not concerned at all about him shooting the ball because once he does what he practices and stays in rhythm with what we do, he is fine there. I don’t think he has shot a free throw this year. We want to see him do that.”
On having six players score in double-figures:
“We like it. We want to have depth. In the past, we have had to play through one or two guys. We have got different guys because we do have depth. We know we have got really good defensive depth. I still think consistent defensive depth. We can get better don’t get me wrong. We still have a ways to go in a lot of different areas. We have to continue to develop consistent offensive depth. If we can do what we did tonight, it is something we saw ourselves doing. We just have to do it. I thought our 3-point shooting was terrific. The kind of threes that we want — inside-out, rhythm threes and moving the ball and getting good looks at it. That is what we want.”
On playing sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James:
“Josiah knows our system probably as well as anybody from all different spots. He is really starting to develop a really high basketball IQ where you can pretty much tell him something for the most part and he can pick it up right away. We did that. We were able to get a bigger lineup out there — a little bit of a jumbo lineup with Yves at the three and Fulky and EJ out there. I can’t remember we had the two freshman guards. I think we had one of them or maybe both. I can’t remember exactly. We wanted to get that frontline out there. We were able to do a little bit of that and see what we can do. With Josiah, he allows us to do a lot of different things.”
On the performance of sophomore guard Santiago Vescovi:
“He is a steady guy. He knows what we are doing. I still want to get him back to where he is still looking to pass the ball a little bit more. He still needs to set that up more some where he can shoot it. He’s going to shoot it. We are not worried about that. We all know he can shoot the ball. He is always trying to run the team and do what he needs to do. He got in some foul trouble, which a year ago we would have been in trouble. Now, with our depth, we are able to do a little bit more. He is fine. Santiago, we all know he is consistent. He will come back and scrub it out himself and look at it. We all have a lot of confidence in him what he brings to us.”
On Tennessee being locked in defensively early in games:
“I think it is the fact that I do think our guys have an honest respect for the game. I think they have an honest respect for their teammates, knowing that full well that if they don’t play hard, someone is waiting to come in. I do think our guys honestly have great respect for each other, that they don’t want to let each other down. That’s where I think it starts. These guys like each other.
“They’ve set some standards and goals for themselves. One of them is I don’t think they want to disappoint each other. So if they’re not locked in, and there’s sometimes I think where I thought even tonight, early I thought even though we were locked in, it looked good and stuff like that, I still didn’t think we were quite as locked in as we needed to be. You think about it, they hit two threes early because of just poor transition defense. Where after we scored, we weren’t getting to our men quick enough. But again, I do know that these guys play for each other and they have a high expectation to make every possession count.”
On the performance of senior forward John Fulkerson:
“When you look at Fulky and Yves (Pons), there’s no doubt their teammates have great respect for them because of what they’ve been through. Fulky, he knows what we need to do. He knows it. We talk about echoing things. He’s starting to do more of that. In the past, that’s not part of who he was or how he played. Yves is getting better with it. And we can definitely get better with communication.
“Defensively we’re ahead there more so than where we are on the offensive end, we do have to get better with it, but Fulky tonight, I said going in I think he was shooting under 50 percent. For us, tonight he did shoot 60 percent and that’s where we expect to see him. I’d still like to see him rebound more, to defend guard play when he gets switched off there. I could talk about each guy. There are a lot of great things they do, but there’s still a lot we can do to get better.”
On how freshmen guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson have adjusted to coming off of the bench after not doing so in high school:
“I think they’re both winners. I think they both have a great competitive spirit about them. I’ve said it before, I think if we had a full summer with them, I think things could be different. But every time we’ve had to shut it down, they’ve gone backwards more so than the older guys, which is expected. That’s no fault of theirs. It’s just, there are guys that have been here, guys that have been here longer. For the short amount of time that they’ve been here, again, will we change the lineup at some point in time? We could. But the key is not who starts. I think they want to finish. That’s the real key. But I think it’s compliment to both of them that they don’t have a sense of entitlement. They don’t think because they’re highly thought of nationally. They’re about winning.
“If we change the lineup, they’re going to make us do it by what they do in practice. It won’t be in a game. One thing that I know is that you’ve got to be able to do it every single day. One of the things I talk to them about, both of those guys, yesterday they weren’t as good as they can be. I just know this, everything they’ve done up to this point, they’ve had to earn it and they’ve worked hard to earn it. For them continue to go forward, I think the same thing is important for us as a coaching staff. Because we’ve got high expectations for them, maybe more than they have for themselves, even though again, they’re competitive and we all see what they can do. I think there’s still so much more in the tank for both of them. All I know is that we’re obligated to help them be everything they want to be, and we’re going to do that. Again, I’ll say it again, there’s no doubt they got hurt, they get hurt more by the stop-and-starts than anybody. But if we can keep the rhythm going right now, it’s only going to help them, probably more than anybody.”