Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Thursday afternoon for the last time before his team opens the 2022-23 season on Monday, Nov. 7 against Tennessee Tech.
The eighth-year head coach discussed Tennessee’s impressive exhibition win over Gonzaga, this team’s depth and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes said Thursday.
On what the tape told him about the Gonzaga game
“Obviously we shot the ball well. I thought we moved the ball well. The passing was good. Honestly, (Gonzaga coach) Mark (Few) and I talked yesterday about where we were this time of year and you can never — I don’t think — read too much into what happens. You go back and look at where you have to improve and we have to get a lot better defensively. Our details with getting our hands up being active. Still too many blow bys where we’re not containing the ball the way we need to. Overall, we had a good effort. I thought both teams played hard and it benefitted both teams. It was certainly a different environment. Something I ‘d like to see us be able to do more going forward but there were some good things in it. We just have to build on what we did the other night.
On why they decided to start Zakai Zeigler
“One, with Josiah being out we’re just trying to work with a rotation through these scrimmages. We weren’t sure exactly how we wanted to do it so we just felt like it would be better to get the more experienced guys out there as much as we could to start with and then start trying to build and see what happens. Which if you go back and look at our first scrimmage against Michigan State, Tyreke (Key) hadn’t played in a year and a half and we just felt maybe — cause he would have been the other way we would have gone at that time — just giving him a chance to get a feel for it. Which I’m glad we did it that way because he didn’t do much in the first half of that scrimmage because, again, he hadn’t played in a year-and-a-half. I think just getting back out there and getting through the fact that he hadn’t played took him a little while but he did come back and play well in the second half of that scrimmage. That’s the reason we went with it and we decided to stay with it.”
On if Josiah-Jordan James will be ready for the season opener
“We think so. He’s going to do a little bit more today and it’s likely he’ll play. Now we just have to keep building him back up to get him ready.”
On how Josiah’s return will help the defensive issues
“Josiah has elite hands. He can get his hands on so many deflections. He’s terrific. His experience, there’s no doubt he helps us with that and he’s a fix it kind of guy. When things break down he, Santi and Zakai are really good fix it guys when things don’t go exactly the way you want it. To be able to talk through things, they certainly do a great job of coaching their teammates. They’ll fix plays that need fixing.”
On how he feels about the second point guard spot
“I think we’re fine. In terms of what we do all year, all summer, all fall we worked with different guys handling the ball. Idealistically, we just want to get down the floor as quick as we can and get into our offense. We think we have three-or-four guys that can facilitate that.”
On if Julian Phillips has the defensive versatility to defend guards and forwards
“I think if Josiah would have been out there (against Gonzaga) it would have helped Julian a lot up this point. I think going forward that will be maybe one of the biggest improvements we see from Julian. He will get better learning and continuing to get better. I said it the other day, think about his first two outings in college basketball was against Gonzaga and Michigan State which is not an easy thing. There’s no way you kind of wade into that. He was thrown right into that and what you have to love about Julian and we do as a staff id the fact that he takes everything we tell him and he tries to fix it and work on it. He’ll be fine. I do think Josiah getting back will help him some defensively.”
On what player he’s coached that Tyreke Key reminds him of
“Well, I’m sure I’d have to think about it. We’ve had guys that can do things like that. Tyreke from the time that he got here he’s impressed us. First of all with his character. Who he is but then he’s an incredible worker. His work ethic is second to none so he’s blended right in with what we do here. We watched him throughout the summer and fall, he can really get going shooting the ball. He has deep deep range and then we decided that we need him to play a little bit of point (guard) here and see if you can do it and he embraced it, but it’s tough. When you’re out there going against Santi and Zakai at that position. He embraced it but we’re not surprised. We’ve seen him do some of the things he did the other night. We’ve seen him get going in practice.”
On how big of an adjustment it was for Tyreke to be vocal as a point guard
“He’s not there yet in terms of being as vocal as he needs to be. I thought he was defensively really good against Gonzaga doing some things that we hadn’t seen. He was flying around doing some of those fix it type plays. More vocal than normal. That’s something he’ll continue to get better with and will have to get better with. The more comfortable he gets understanding exactly what that position calls for — because it is the hardest position to play for us offensively. He’ll get there because he’s one of those guys that’s all about figuring out how to get better and he dreams like everyone of playing at the highest level. For him to do that he knows what he has to do daily to improve on his skills.
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On where he’s seen the most improvement from Olivier Nkamhoua
“I go back to January when he was playing great basketball for us a year ago before his injury and then he missed a lot. The fact that he got to go this summer and just play, helped him. But it’s totally different there and what we do here. Each day, he comes back and continues to get better. No one cares more than O (Nkamhoua). He wants to please. He wants to do things the right way, but he’ll work at it and continue to work at it, but I would say that not just him, but we all need to get better defensively containing the ball. I think it’s really important. Again, it’s not just O, it’s everybody to help us get where we want to go defensively. We have to improve on that end from a year ago. If we can learn to contain the ball, it’s going to help our defensively rebounding, but O works and is going to give you the effort you need everyday to get where he needs to go.”
On if there’s coaching challenges with having so much depth
“There is no challenge to having depth. We’re going to play the guys that need to play. Consistency will determine how much depth we use. We’ve had bodies in the past — you can go back a year ago where it seemed like we had depth, but the depth never showed any consistency. How many players we use will simply be based on who is going to show up and be consistent day in and day out. And when we put them in a game, can they do what we expect them to do day in and day out?”
On what he wants to accomplish in the season opener
“As much as we practice and play — execution. Staying in the moment, right now, understanding how valuable those two minutes and then I would say cardio toughness. When guys get tired, some guys just go off the cliff and fall. I want to see guys where it’s a gradual decline before we can get them out. That’s important. And I do know we’re a conditioned team. At the pace that we play I think every one can handle it. But the fact is when you do get in those situations where you’re moving up and down the court, maybe the stoppage isn’t what it would normally be, it can go for two and a half to three minutes, how many guys can do that without getting tired and fatigued or drop off the cliff. Cardio toughness is a big part of it. To see how long we can play and sustain what we want to do, and once we go to the bench, if we can maintain that or take it to another level. That’s the one thing Zakai did for us a year ago. You all witnessed that when he came into the game, it was just a different level. If he’s a starter, we’re going to need that from Tyreke and Jahmai Mashack. We’re going to need that from those guys coming off the bench, that they can not just hold the energy, but they can take it to a whole new level.”
On how much he can gauge of consistency in practice versus saying it in games
“When I talk about consistency, it’s not about making shots. It’s about doing the right thing, making the right play. It’s staying in the role that we’ve talked about and sometimes it’s difficult for players because when a guy is used to being with a group of guys where he might be looked at as the third, fourth, fifth option. All of a sudden, if we’re not careful with out substation, he may feel he has to do too much. That’s on us to stay away from that. What we want to see with out substations and with our depth, can they do exactly what they talked about with staying in the moment and do the job we need them to do.”
On how freshman point guard B.J. Edwards is developing
“Getting better, he is getting better. Like any young freshman, understanding ball security and defense, not giving up position for a skill. BJ is one of those guys that does have good cardio toughness to where he can fight through fatigue. It’s just a matter of him learning the entire system and what he needs to do when he goes out there. He’s competitive and it’s really helped him playing against Zakai and Santi, especially Zakai all summer. But I would say he’s on pace with where we need him to be. He’s going to have to keep grinding.”
On if Uros Plavsic can play some back up point guard with the ball skills he showed against Gonzaga
“Well, I’m not drinking that kool-aid yet, but you know, Uros is a facilitator. He’s good out there when he’s not too casual with it. We’re using those post guys once we get into our flow-game to help facilitate and let our guards start cutting and moving. But he’s good at it and as long as he doesn’t get too careless, we like him to have the ball out there.”