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Everything Rick Barnes said about Tuesday’s game against Ole Miss

Vols head basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Monday afternoon to preview Tuesday night’s trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Barnes discussed Tennessee needing to become a consistent basketball team, his relationship with Ole Miss head coach Kermit Davis and what the Rebels, the play of sophomore forward Olivier Nkamhoua recently, his first impression of new football coach Josh Heupel, and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said:

On how concerned he is with the consistency of Tennessee’s performances give the loss to Florida and win over Kansas came within a 12-day span:

“Well, I think you’re always concerned when you don’t do the things that you feel like you’re capable of. I also know this, that old saying in coaching, you’re never as good as you think you are and you’re probably never as bad as you think you are. We’re somewhere in the middle probably. To answer that is the word consistency. Can we get consistent with it? Again, when we’ve had everybody healthy, I think we’ve been better. I don’t think there’s any question about that. Even with that said, I think that we are a good enough team that we shouldn’t get beat as badly as we did at Florida. So much of the game is mental and you can get rocked back a little bit, and sometimes it takes you longer to get out of it. We cost ourselves in games because we would not shoot the ball, and that led to a lot of turnovers. Like I said here against Mississippi State the other night when I was talking about kind of the same situation that you’ve asked me about, we finally started shooting the ball. They didn’t go in, but then the challenge was would we continue to shoot open shots. We did that other night against Kansas, and I would be very disappointed. I will tell you this, too. Yesterday during film, I got onto Santi (Vescovi) about turning down some shots that he’s got to take for us. The key going forward will be if we do that, I think it takes a lot of pressure off. You’re not going to make them all. Nobody makes them all against us and we’re not going to make them all, but I think we’re all looking for consistency from everybody. I think that discrepancy, I can’t tell you why it’s like that other than I know that it gets back to consistency.”

On what a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting looks like with him:

“I would like to think that our players know that we’re going to be truthful and that we’re going to coach them the way that we want them to be coached. We’re going to watch film. We’re not going to hold back. Every game we show them the good, the bad, and the ugly. I think sometimes you’ve got to go deeper than that. Sometimes you revert back to experiences you’ve dealt with in the past. Coaching is an everyday proposition. You can’t ever think you’re there. Instead, you get up every day with the mindset ‘How can we get better?’ Knowing that this is what I do for a living, the guys that I coach want to do it for a living, but they have no idea what goes into that. I do believe if you take days off trying to coach them and help them, it hurts them in the long run. The biggest thing that you can do, and I think our players will tell you, is that I am brutally honest. Sometimes the truth hurts when you see it, but I’m not going to say anything to them that I can’t validate with the tape in terms of their effort and in terms of them not playing the way we need to play. I can point it out to them, but that tape validates it. In the past I’ve said I can arrest them, but the tape charges them. I think as a staff we’re very straight forward with them. The most important thing in life is truth, and I think as long as you’re speaking truth, you’re going to be fine.”

On preparing to peak at the end of the season:

“We showed yesterday, and just like you would expect in the game the other night against Kansas, we did not execute particularly well to start the game, which I wasn’t surprised because we had two freshmen out there that haven’t been in that situation. If I said it once yesterday, I said it ten times, we’ve got room to get so much better. I don’t think we’re anywhere near peaking right now. It’s still about us getting better. It’s about certain guys still learning the offense, understanding what they need to do, spacing wise. We can get so much better. Defensively the other night I thought we were really good. Where we’ve got to get consistent is offensively. I’m not talking about making shots. When you’re making shots like we did at the start of the game, it made everything look pretty. From a technical standpoint, that’s what it was. We made shots. Once the game settled down, we got back into where we were executing what we wanted to get done.”

On what ‘drawing the line’ — a phrase he told the team after the win over Kansas — means:

“It was about us. The line had nothing to do with anybody but us. The night before we talked about the things that we had to do within our own team. This group of guys, they love each other, they care about each other, but it’s about the respect level within our team in terms of guys doing their jobs night in and night out, and excepting the role that we need them to play. A lot of it was directed towards rebounding the basketball. We had gotten our tails kicked in rebounding. Whether you want to call it toughness or technique, the fact is it’s a mindset. We said we’re going to draw the line. We’ve talked, and everybody says you just have to do it. Whether you’re talking about, whatever it takes is what it gets down to. Block your man out and go get the ball. We’ve got to go rebound. Drawing the line, what we’re referring to is in our own team structure in terms of proving to ourselves that we were tough enough to do it and capable of doing it.”

His thoughts on Ole Miss:

“They have a whole new team from a year ago. With Kermit and his teams, you go back to the beginning of the year they, have been playing great basketball. They are aggressive, they trap, they really work hard at turning you over and they do a terrific job of getting turnovers, and turning those turnovers into baskets. They are very active defensively and I really like the way they run their offense with speed. So, every night we go out, it’s a different opponent, but yet we have to have to same mindset in terms of playing against teams that are very well coached and they know what they’re looking for. He’s going to have them ready to play, and he always has his teams ready to play. We’ve got to be ready to step up and show that we can be consistent.”

On the line between making the extra pass and taking open shots:

“The fine line between shooting the ball and extra pass is obviously important. We want as many uncontested shots as we can get. What you don’t want is an extra pass with a really good shooter that has a good look at it, to a guy that is maybe not as good a shooter. Even with that, we’d rather a guy that’s not a great shooter, unless it’s an absolute special situation, to get a cleaner look. Contested shots are hard to make. We do want ball movement and we love assists. We love the pass that leads to the assist. Yves (Pons) did a great job the other night when he passed the ball to VJ (Victor Bailey Jr.), VJ threw it back, and instead of shooting it, he put it on the floor with two dribbled and drove the ball and it was a terrific basketball play. We just want high percentage shots, and as many uncontested shots as we can get.”

On how COVID has changed things around the locker room and complex:

“I don’t spend more time at home. It’s different here. If you guys walked in our locker room it doesn’t look anything like it did a year ago. When the women aren’t playing here, we do most everything in the Ray Mears room. Most guys in the past might sit around and eat, and now most of them carry their food back, except the night before the game when we come back for our meeting prior to the game every night in Ray Mears. We don’t use our film room, so we haven’t been in our film room since we got back from Nashville back in the spring. All of our furniture was taken out of the lounge. When we’re in there, we have dividers up in the lockers and those type of things. We really do try to do everything we can that way.

“Today I’m here, then I walk through the locker room, and when we finish up I’ll go sit at the court at Thompson Boling Arena. We do go back and practice at Pratt, so we’re normally up there. Other than the way the locker room is set up, there’s not much that has changed in terms of the way I do things. I think our guys really miss the lounge, I do. It had become a home for them, where they would love to hang around and be together, and obviously we have encouraged them not to do that as much as possible. That’s the biggest difference, because my favorite time with them honestly is before practice and when we get started, or after practice when they are getting ready to eat, I’d hang out with them till the end. I loved being around them, and I’d get to cut up with them and kid with them, even If I had gotten on them in practice. That’s probably the biggest adjustment we’ve had to make with what goes on in our locker room.”

On the play of sophomore forward Olivier Nkamhoua recently:

“Olivier did okay. I put him in and when I took him out, I said he took two shots and the first one wasn’t a very good shot and the second one I get it, but that’s not why I’m taking you out. We talked the night before and he said to me that his number one job was to play defense and rebound, and in that short span of missing those two shots, he gave up two baskets. Not easy ones, but he could have guarded better and he actually did when he went back in. We think that Olivier can score. I do think the more he’s out there, the more comfortable he will get mentally probably more than anything.

“I still think we’re going to play 11 people going forward. We still have confidence in E.J. (Anosike) and Uros (Plavsic) and we want those guys to play. It’s hard to get beyond that 10 or 11 guys. It really is, because we’re still trying to get the consistency going. We had planned on really starting the younger guys a couple weeks back, but we couldn’t do it because of the injuries. We’ve been hit with that all year, and we want to get out there in practice and get that rhythm we want. This group of guys work hard, knowing that when their number is called, they’ll be ready for the opportunity they’ve been waiting on. We do want to keep the minutes down and in a perfect world, we like to keep everybody under 30 minutes in a game. We feel good about guys playing 28 minutes or somewhere in there. We think we’re all much more affective when we can do that, but for us to do that, we’ve got to get consistent play from our bench.”

On if the offensive success against Kansas was because of shot selection:

“I think it has a lot to do with it. We talk about game shots and game speed, and that’s what we want to see. The other night, we felt like guys were a little bit calmer with the ball. I liked the fact that Yves Pons and Josiah-Jordan James got the ball down and got themselves in triple-threat position and raised up and shot it. I think that’s a great way to shoot a three, especially because I know how much time those guys have put in to doing just that. We all just want guys to do what they practice, and we want to come within the framework of our offense and feel like our guys know what we’re trying to get done. We did isolate a little bit more the other night, and we had some isolation plays that we went to that we like. It plays into those guys again doing what they practice.”

On what the SEC winning the SEC/Big 12 Challenge means for the league:

“I think it’s important because everybody every year has their opinion. The narrative is that the Big 12 and Big 10 have the best leagues right now. I think the fact is that we did have an opportunity to go head-to-head and we came out on top. So yeah, I think it helps our league and the perception of our league. I also think that this time of year, it’s very important for teams that are fighting to get in to post-season play because every game is being closely watched. They always are, but maybe more so this year than ever because of the fact that some teams are not going to play as many games as others. I told someone after the game that all day long, I’d bump into people who were talking about the excitement of watching all these games on T.V. and that it felt like an NCAA Tournament because there are games going on all day long. They are terrific games obviously, so for our league, I think it was great and only the second time that I think we’ve been able to win the challenge.”

On the passing of Temple head coach John Chaney:

“It was a blessing to get to meet him and be able to be around him some and he was just a lovely person. He was always the same person every time I spoke with him and treated me very nice. The way I got to know him even more without him knowing that, was through Dan Leibovitch who is the associate commissioner of basketball in the SEC. Dan loved him and I would ask Dan about him and Dan said that if you were a student-athlete in Chaney’s program; it was all about getting an education. He drove that through his players and Dan told me that no one cared about his players wanting to create a better life for themselves more than John Chaney. We lost one of the best in the business. He came through during a time where there weren’t that many black coaches. Someone told me back in the day he was a public player of the year. He probably wasn’t recruited the way a player of that stature should have been but he made the best of it. You look at the legacy he left behind, he left the thing so much better than he found it and he’s so terrific for the game of college basketball.”

On his relationship with Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis:

“Kermit’s one of those guys the first time you meet him you feel like you’ve known him your whole life. He’s always had a pleasant personality with me and I’ve kept up with Kermit because ever since he got into coaching, everyone knew he was a terrific basketball coach. He did an incredible job at Middle Tennessee and there’s a lot of things about Kermit I like because he’s real. When he left Middle Tennessee, very few coaches would’ve said what he said. He came to Ole Miss and said this is a total rebuild. Most coaches wouldn’t want to say something like that and that tells you who he is, how secure he is and what he does. Everyone knows how good he is with the X’s and O’s and he’s done a good job at building programs and he’s doing the same thing with Ole Miss.”

On his first impression of new Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel:

“I like him a lot. I met him in the football locker room the first day he was here and he was on the court the other night. Just spending a little time with him he’s a lot like Danny White. It takes me back to where I was at Providence or Clemson; they just want a chance where they want to come into a situation like this and make the program better. I like the fact that they think they’ve got a great job. They know what this place can be and they want to be a part of bringing this place back to be what we all want it to be. I can only speak from when I was at that age that you’re not afraid to compete. I think these guys are going to get us into the fight and that’s what we all want. Being around him and Danny, I’m impressed with their fire and enthusiasm on wanting to get things done.”

On getting more out of Yves Pons and John Fulkerson:

“We talked about drawing the line and it was directed at those guys quite a bit, to be honest with you. I thought both of them responded in a great way because of what we expected from them from the get-go. I thought they did exactly what we needed them to do. It goes back to having to do it again and again.”

On why Tennessee has out-rebounded Kansas the past two years:

“For some reason, they didn’t send as many to the glass. Watching the tape, we had as many as five guys going up for the rebound sometimes. We told them the night before I don’t care who gets it, go get the ball. Santiago Vescovi had a great night on the glass and we had some good block-outs but nothing is perfect by any means. Our guards did a great job but they weren’t sending as many guys as they have before when we faced them but I don’t know. I just like the fact on a lot of clips, we had 5 guys around the basket ready to go get it.”

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