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What Excites Rick Barnes, Tennessee Players About 2022-23 Vols

Rick Barnes
Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

BIRMINGHAM, Ala — Tennessee forward Josiah-Jordan James has seen a lot in his three-plus years in Knoxville. From playing on average teams to playing in empty arenas. From playing in some of the country’s top arenas to winning a SEC Tournament Championship.

College basketball has shown James just about all it has to offer and the senior forward has a strong pulse on the team he’s now the leader of. So what has James learned about his final college team three weeks into preseason practice?

“We’re going to be really good,” James said. “I know that for a fact.”

That’s the expectation inside the Tennessee program but also the expectation outside of it. The SEC’s media picked Tennessee to finish third in the conference this season with a conference high three players on the two Preseason All-SEC teams.

Tennessee came in at No. 11 in the Preseason AP Poll and is expected internally and externally to compete for the conference championship this season.

There’s plenty of reasons for optimism.

Tennessee returns all but two key pieces from last season’s team including breakout star point guard Zakai Zeigler and senior veterans Santiago Vescovi and James— the Vols’ three representatives on the preseason All-SEC teams.

Combine that with five-star freshman Julian Phillips and Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key— a two-time First Team All-Missouri Valley Conference guard— and it’s easy to understand the excitement in Knoxville.

“I think having the newcomers be as talented as they are combined with the leadership of guys that have been through it for three-or-four years now,” Vescovi said about what most excites him. “We kind of have a lot of battles all together. I think we can teach them what it takes to be a good team.”

For James, the excitement comes from this team’s competitiveness and fire in practice every day.

“Everybody hates to lose,” James said on what excites him. “Everybody’s will to win. It doesn’t matter if it’s a four-on-four drill, a three-on-three drill, one-on-one or just live scrimmages. Everybody hates to lose. Everybody’s upset. That’s always something good to see out of a team.”

While James admits that’s not a 180 change from past seasons, the 2022-23 Vols have “upped the ante.”

The biggest question mark entering the season revolves around replacing point guard Kennedy Chandler. The Vols’ third one-and-done prospect in the last two seasons led Tennessee in both points and assists a season ago.

Zeigler is more than capable of stepping up into the lead dog spot but there’s no established ball handler on the roster beside him.

While that remains a question, eighth year head coach Rick Barnes likes the way his team is facilitating the ball in preseason practice.

“A team that’s willing to share the ball and move the ball,” Barnes said on what excites him. “We take a lot of pride in assisting on baskets. We do think we can shoot the ball consistently well.

We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to score at every level at a more consistent basis this year, but I would still go back to the camaraderie that they have and the way that they are willing to compete against each other every day and go at it extremely hard. Then when it’s over with, they take care of each other, look out for each other, and get ready to come back the next day and do it again.”

Tennessee opens its season on Nov. 7 against Tennessee Tech before facing Colorado, Maryland, Butler, USC/BYU and Arizona all before Christmas.

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