The Tennessee basketball team has experienced an overhaul when it comes to players and coaches over the past month, as Rick Barnes added two new assistants and a plethora of talent. As Tennessee assistant coaches Kim English and Desmond Oliver moved on to take head coaching jobs, Barnes already had an eye for who he was looking for to replace the two.
“We had lost some coaches too. One, starting with our staff, I’ve been so impressed with coach Gainey and coach Clark. The chemistry between them and the players is evident already. They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. They know what they need to do. You guys know us here, we’re all in it together. They’ve made that adjustment quickly. In terms of the relationship that we all expect to have, the coach-player relationship, that will only grow more and more.”
But for Barnes, the return of John Fulkerson has also made a huge impact in what the program is trying ti accomplish, especially with a different style of play on the court. This lineup the Vols currently have gives them the ability to aggressive on the boards, while also capitalizing on their shooters.
“It was really tough watching John going through the year that he went through this past year. Those things that happened that you have no control over is tough to watch. That’s why we’re excited about him coming back. The other guys that play big minutes. Every year, you look at your team and you’re willing to make adjustments. You have to adjust to your personnel. I never believed in having a system. We try to recruit what we do, but sometimes you get guys that surprise you. They can do more or sometimes not as much as you might think. There is an adjustment period. The way this team is built, I like to think that we’re going to be able to rebound the ball better because we’re going to be bigger. We’ll shoot better. More importantly, the fact that we can get back to our normal year”.
One of the biggest takeaways when looking at this roster is the outside shooting. As Justin Powell and Santiago Vescovi get to know each other better, it will give the Vols a legitimate shooting threat, which was missing last season.
“There are some differences there. Justin has proven that he can play the point if he has to. He’s a guy that I think is really terrific at coming offscreen, creating an offense where he moves without the ball. He’s going to be great at that. He will not only score on that play, but create some offense, too. With his size, he has a huge advantage. Justin does have the versatility. Santiago does as well, but Justin is bigger. Santiago is a guy that feels better when he has the ball, playing with it, and getting different actions in that way. We like guys that come offscreen, catch the ball, and score it. Justin is going to be really good at that for us.”
It’s no secret that the Vols struggled to find their mark in the paint last season, but with the addition of Jonas Aidoo and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, it should take the pressure off John Fulkerson, which could lead him to being a bigger factor at the four spot.
“After six years, we’re thinking of playing him at the point. We think that he has got it figured out that he can play any of those spots. He won’t have to stay down there as much as he have in the past. That was a tough thing for him. It was obvious that their deal was to beat him up. Just body him up wherever he was. He weighed whatever it would take and physically he did. He was getting pounded on it. I think the fact that he’ll be able to go back to playing in a way that he played for the most part of his three years here.”
The Tennessee team you will see next season will look different, which is not a secret. But, how this team will play is the exciting part for the coaches and players, as they’ll have a full compliment of skill players that are fit for each position. Meaning, Barnes won’t have to play guys out of their comfort zone, if he doesn’t feel the need.
“It’s a fun time right now. When you have turnover, you bring in new guys that bring some different thoughts and ideas that you talk about. We’re always going to do everything that we can to make our program better every day. We talk to our players about getting better every day. I think as a coaching staff, we feel the same way. We’ve got to continue to figure out how we can improve as a staff. This team will be different. It will be a much different team than we’ve had in a while. It’s a long team. We feel like we’ve got a lot of different weapons that we’re going to be able to use that we’re excited about”.
There are changes happening within the Tennessee basketball program and Rick Barnes sounds like he’s ready to capitalize on their good fortune in recruiting and from the portal.