Tennessee returns to the hardwood Sunday, looking to improve to 2-0 when they host ETSU at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Rick Barnes’ Vols are welcoming an instate foe to Knoxville but also an old friend in the Bucs’ first year coach Desmond Oliver. Oliver was the longest tenured assistant coach under Barnes at Tennessee. An inaugural member of Barnes’ coaching staff at Tennessee, Oliver spent six years as an assistant in Knoxville.
“I’m excited for Des,” Barnes said this week. “From the time I got to know him his goal was to be a division one head basketball coach. He had the opportunity to interview for a number of different positions and ended up with just a terrific job at East Tennessee. I think he would tell you he’s really excited about his team. He has players coming back that have had great success. Looking at them, there’s certainly some things they’ll do that we do here but he’s also added some things that he likes himself. From a personal standpoint, I’m just really excited for Des and his family that he’s finally got the opportunity he worked long and hard for for a long time.”
Oliver was instrumental in the rebuild of Tennessee’s basketball program under Barnes. Vol players are looking forward to reconnecting with their former coach this weekend.
“Just a great coach,” Victor Bailey Jr. said. “He always used to say I looked like Blade and he texted me the other day saying he was watching the movie, thought about me. He was a great coach and I’m excited to see him again.”
Oliver and ETSU make their season debut Friday night against Appalachian State. Oliver is looking to bring what he learned at a handful of assistant coach stops to Johnson City. That includes what he learned from Barnes in his six years in Knoxville.
“Rick Barnes at Tennessee is an incredible motivator. His team’s guard and defend, they’re tough, they rebound,” Oliver said in his introductory press conference.
ETSU is two years removed from one of the best seasons in program history. The 2019-20 Bucs went 30-4 (16-2 SOCON), winning the SOCON Tournament and bolstering one of the best mid-major teams in the country before COVID-19 cancelled the NCAA Tournament.
Last season, the Bucs were rebuilding after losing all five starters from their 2019-20 team. ETSU took a big step back down to earth, earning a 13-12 (8-7 SOCON) record.
ETSU returns three of its top four scorers from last season’s team including Ledarrius Brewer (16.2 points per game) and David Sloan (11.1 points per game).
The Vols and Bucs tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena at noon ET Sunday. SEC Network will broadcast the game.