Before the 1998 season, the University of Texas’ basketball program hired Rick Barnes to be the new head coach. Seventeen years later, his time in Austin would come to a close. And coming up this Saturday, just seven years after that event, Barnes will be leading his 18th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers to take on the Longhorns in Austin for the first time since he left in 2015.
Among many things on Saturday, it will be an emotional day with a pregame celebration likely focused around Barnes. During his time at Texas, the now-Tennessee coach led the Longhorns to three Big 12 regular-season titles (’99, ’06, ’08) and one Final Four appearance in 2003.
However, there will also be a premier non-conference basketball game going on in the middle of the welcome-home celebration. And for the Vols, that’s where their main focus is at.
On Friday morning, Barnes met with the media virtually to discuss his final thoughts going into the game against Texas. Barnes spoke about Austin-native Victor Bailey Jr., as well as some of his scouting report on his opponent. In addition, Barnes retold the story about how he was first contacted by the University of Tennessee, and why Knoxville is now home after his first seven years.
No. 18 Tennessee will take on Texas this Saturday night in Austin at 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. CT. Currently, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index is giving Tennessee a 40.2 percent chance to win the SEC/Big 12 Challenge game.
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Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes – Friday – Jan. 28, 2022
On how the University of Tennessee feels like home…
“Well I grew up about three hours from here, just on the other side of the mountains. Hickory is in the western part of North Carolina. We’re in the eastern part of the state, and my wife went to school here. Candy’s a graduate of the University of Tennessee, so I did make the trip over here a couple different times when we were dating, before we were married. But the people here, I love the people. I love people and as I’ve said before, we have a tremendous fan base here. Tremendous loyalty to this university. I mean our last two games we’ve put over 20,000 people in the stands and we had 4,500 students here the other night. If you could’ve seen what went on with our baseball team this past spring, and our football team with what we’ve been though the last couple of years and what Josh Heupel has done. Even with our new athletic director, Danny White, in. But when you think about our Randy Boyd, who’s the president of the UT system, and Donde Plowman, who will be at the game and used to work at the University of Texas and has two sons that live there. She’s our chancellor. We just have tremendous leadership and it’s all about Volunteer. It is a Volunteer state when you get here. Being able to get lost in this community, I’ve gotten so many people that I know with different things that we’ve been able to get involved with outside of the university. It’s such a really caring, loving, generous fan base. They love this university and they love the state of Tennessee. I have fallen in love with it.”
On where Victor Bailey Jr.’s game and what he wants to see from him…
“I’ve said it many times, if our players picked a player that they love and respect, there’s no one more than they respect than Victor Bailey Jr. VJ has struggled at times, obliviously on the offensive end. He’s a much better basketball player than when he got here because he’s really learned how to compete at very high level on the defensive end. We still think he’s going to help us win basketball games. With our team, we have so many guys in early in the year you guys would talk to me about our rotation and it’s hard to get a rotation until players start separating themselves in terms of being productive and consistent. We felt like after the LSU game, that we somewhat had I guess a routine in terms of how we were going to put together our substitution package. We played a Florida team that at one time had five guards on the floor, and so we had to go small ball. As much as you might have or as a staff have all these plans in mind, one thing I’ve learned over the year that you have to be willing to make adjustments during the game and sometimes you have to adjust to what the other team is doing. VJ is going to play. He works too hard, and he’s too loved by his teammates and the coaching staff not to. He’s not going to quit and will never quit on them.”
On who at Tennessee initially reached out to him to gauge his interest in the head coaching job…
“Actually the first person that reached out to me and said to me, ‘Coach, whether they want you to stay at Texas or not, I’m going to give you some advice.’ It was my former player Dickey Simpkins, who I coached at Providence and won three championship rings with the Bulls in the NBA and obviously had been around and knew college basketball. I can’t remember exactly what he told me about, but it got back to something about how sometimes it’s just the right time to leave. He had a player that played on his AAU team named Admiral Schofield and he and I had first started talking because when the coaching change was first made (at Tennessee), about maybe Admiral coming to the University of Texas. During the course of that conversation, Dickey had some great wisdom for me and I said, ‘That’s really good,’ and he said ‘Do you know where I got that from? You.’ You need to take your own advice. Like I said, I love Texas, and I was told one thing one day and one thing the next—it was all over the place. But Dickey was right.
“So from that point on, I did not really talk to the University of Tennessee until a couple days before that Sunday. I spoke with Dave Odom, who was a friend of mine, and he told me the same thing, he said ‘Right now might be the time to do it.’ Once I got on the phone with Dave Hart and Jon Gilbert, who’s a Lenoir-Rhyne College graduate, we started talking. Again, it was inevitable. I had told our players (at Texas) so many times about not quitting that that I didn’t think I could quit and just say that I was leaving because that’s not how I felt. My time was up and they needed to tell me that it was up because I didn’t want my players to ever say to me, ‘Coach, why would you quit?’. That was important to me. To be honest, they wanted to have one of those really fun press conferences at the end where everyone sits up there and acts like it’s a mutual parting of ways, and I said that I wasn’t having any part of that. Mack (Brown) told me later that he wishes he would have done the same thing. So I felt good about that because that’s just the way it happened. I’ve said it before, I think God is in control of all of this and I think He had plans for me to be here.
“But Dickey was the first guy to really (reach out). He knew what was going on because of Admiral’s situation. He called me first and we talked about it and he kind of stayed at it with me about it for a couple days, saying ‘You really need to think about this.’ Obviously when we started talking, it didn’t take very long because I knew I wanted to still coach. I still felt that I had the fire to do that and knew that we could be successful with the way we do things. Literally when I left that press conference (at Texas), Don Evans drove me to the airport and I got on a plane and flew straight here.”
On if league pride plays any role in participating in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and if he’ll watch any other games on Saturday…
“Well, I think you’re talking about the two best leagues in college basketball right now. I think every game that you play with the NCAA committee is a resume-building game, I do. The games are very important. When you think about it, two of the team in the Big 12, they are eventually going to be members of our league. I do think you have the two best leagues in college basketball, in terms of watching games. I pretty much have a routine that I do on gameday and some days I may watch a little basketball, and other days I won’t. It just depends on where I am mentally, and if I am where I want to be. I wish we weren’t playing the late game, just due to the fact that we won’t get back here until 3 a.m. and we turn around and play Tuesday, which is a quick turnaround, and it is tough getting back that late because of the time change.
“But I do think it’s good and have always felt like that. It started back when I was in the Big 12. We were talking about a challenge, at the time, with the Pac-10. When I was at Providence, and they started the ACC/Big East challenge, there weren’t enough teams in the ACC to accommodate all the Big East teams and we got left out a year, it was supposed to be a rotating base as well. It never got to that point because it seemed like the teams that were the lower picked teams wouldn’t play and I did not think that it was fair for the players. So, in my first meeting, there was a big talk, Roy Williams was talking about it, and I said that if all of our teams can’t play then we shouldn’t do it. That’s what I wish would happen right now, and obviously we have a different amount of teams, so with that said, instead I think it should become more of a bracket buster. I think all teams have to be in it to be what I would call a real ‘challenge’. I really believe that. Do I think it’s been good for both leagues at this point? Probably, I think it has. From the time that ESPN started talking about this, this is the time slot that they wanted. I remember it was earlier in the year at one point, but they always wanted it to be this weekend. Going forward, once Oklahoma and Texas come into the league, I do not know what will happen with the Big 12/SEC Challenge and how it will go down. A true challenge is when you have everyone in the league playing, and we obviously can’t do that.”
On what his points of emphasis are when scouting Texas …
“They are excellent defensively. They do a really good job and try to keep the ball on one side and are a heavy help team. You drive baseline and they are going to try and put a wall up. They rebound the ball, I think they are a physical team and I thought they played a terrific game the other night and put it together at TCU, so they have some momentum obviously working there. Offensively, they run their motion passing game with a lot of cutting, within that cutting they are going to look to get some isolations where they like to get it in different areas on the floor. Chris (Beard) knows exactly how he wants to play. He’ll change his defenses a little bit and show some things there that obviously we need to be ready for. Again, they play extremely hard and are very fundamentally sound in what they do.”