Tennessee basketball is less than a week into its official preseason practice. However, some Tennessee players have been on campus since June and the whole team has since the middle of August.
That time together is important for a Tennessee team that has just six returning scholarship playera and eight newcomers.
Meeting with the media Wednesday, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said he’s pleased with the camaraderie on his team and very complimentary of the leadership of his upperclassmen.
“Well, the older guys have helped us because they know what culture we’ve created here,” Barnes said. “They know what are the pillars of our program, what’s important, and how things are done. Again, I think I’m being frank and honest when I tell you I think we probably had the best leadership with our upperclassmen that we’ve had in a couple years. The guys that you’ve talked about have been through some tough times, but yet they’ve had some good times. They’ve done a really, really fine job of showing these younger guys what it’s about in our program. They know we need the younger guys to grow up quick.”
One of Tennessee’s veterans, Josiah Jordan James, was critical of himself and the Vols’ player leadership following their first round loss to Oregon State.
James vowed to be a better leader following the loss and it has shown up. At Wednesday’s open practice, James was the Vols’ most vocal player providing encouragement and corrections for his younger teammates.
Helping Tennessee build chemistry is the lifted COVID-19 restrictions. With frequent testing and contact tracing last season, Tennessee players weren’t able to spend the time with each other off the court that they do in most seasons.
How that affected Tennessee when the losses piled up in February is hard to say, but that’s not an issue the Vols will face this season.
“Well, I think when you talk about chemistry, I think it starts with if there is a genuine love and likeness for each other. I think that’s where it starts,” Barnes said. “I do know this, this group likes each other. I know they like being together. They would tell you to the man that a year ago was really hard. We’ve done some team type of things whether it’s going to paintball or something like that. They would tell you how good that feels to them and how much they missed doing things as a team in the past year. That part of it has been fun.”
As for Tennessee’s eight newcomers, they’ve been inconsistent to this point, and that’s to be expected with the season still six weeks away.
“Like you would expect, they’ve all had good days, they’ve all had some days where they’ve been up and down,” Barnes said. “The attitude has never wavered. They all want to because they are willing to learn, they’re finding out there’s things with the game of basketball that they’ve never, they might have heard of it, but they didn’t understand the importance of it. They understand how you have to learn how to play when you’re tired, learn how to execute, learn how to respond as opposed to reacting when things aren’t going well. Overall, they’ve been good. Like I’ve said, they’ve all had good days.”
Tennessee will begin its 2021-22 season on Nov. 9 when UT-Martin visits Thompson Boling Arena.