Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Monday following the Vols’ two-loss week and ahead of their matchup with No. 1 Alabama.
The Vols are on a slide losing three of their last four games and life isn’t going to get any easier as they prepare to face the top-ranked Crimson Tide and Kentucky this week.
Barnes discussed his positive thinking coming from the game, Gus Manning’s passing and much more.
Here’s everything Barnes said on Monday afternoon.
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On the passing of Gus Manning
“Really sorry to hear that. I was fortunate to get to know Gus when he first got here and he really embraced me, took me in. I actually just walked back there because every time I’ve had people come on campus, one of the things I would do when I came into Thompson-Boling Arena was go in his office and let people see how time has kind of stood still. I remember, I think it was February 8, 2017, was the last game that he saw us play here. I can remember going in and often times he had a big old magnifying glass that he’d be reading the stat sheets. And the last time was when we played Ole Miss here back in February 2017. He was obviously an icon, a legend. We lost a true legend. He loved Tennessee. And he loved this place. I did have a chance to go to one of his parties out there. But we truly lost a great legend today.”
On the many jobs Gus Manning held during his tenure at Tennessee
“He used to tell me about all of them. From picking cheerleaders to doing everything. Tom (Satkowiak) has a great photo in his office where he looks like he’s holding everything in a brief case as he’s celebrating a big football win. Again, at the time, people tell me back in the day when everything was really just kind of getting started, he wore every hat that you could wear. I walked in one day and had a jacket on. He said Coach, I really like that jacket. I said well I’ll get you one. It was not a university-issued jacket, it was just a really warm jacket. I’m looking at him and I said what size would you wear? He said Coach, I’m a triple-X. I said there’s no way you’re a triple-X. And I had an extra large jacket on and I had him put it on. It came to about right here. I didn’t realize how big he was. He absolutely was a triple-X. You wouldn’t know it. But again, he’s a person that every time you’re around him, he had something that he could share with you. Loved telling stories. Back on his wall back there, he’s got photos up of Bear Bryant, Adolf Rupp. You go through the line from the ‘50s on. He’s got all those legendary coaches and people that he worked with. I think he had up most of the coaches here. He did do that. He loved this place and this University loved him.”
On what he would tell players about Gus Manning’s legacy
“Well, there’s a monument out back that has been here since he left and that’s his little golf cart. It’s still sitting out there. It’s got some flat tires. People tell me back in the day they would see him running up and down Kingston Pike with it, street ready. But it hasn’t moved since the day he left. It’s there. It shows you how much people respected him, because I’m sure he kept the key with full intentions that he’s planning on coming back, driving that cart. You leave today, you walk out there, it really hasn’t moved since his last day here.”
On if he still feels as positive as he did after Saturday
“You know, I do. I think anytime you have a group of guys that played as hard as we had to play, against a team that just, they were on fire, they were making some great shots. But the way our guys, with really a group of guys that hadn’t played a lot together, their effort, their intensity and willingness to do whatever they have to do. I felt the same way I about it, where I just know that we played, showed a lot of fight. Had to overcome a lot with guys being out. Different guys coming in, having to do some things. It certainly gave us something we can build on.”
On the status of Julian Phillips (hip flexor) and Josiah-Jordan James (ankle sprain)
“It will be game-day ready. We won’t do much with either of them today, obviously. Let them try to get as healed as they possibly can. If not, whatever we have, we’ve got to go play.”
On the opportunity it would be for Jahmai Mashack if Phillips and James are out against Alabama
“He did a great job Saturday just competing as hard as a person can compete. I thought BJ (Edwards’) minutes were good as well. I was really impressed with Julian. He was hurt, he had hurt his hip flexor prior to that. His minutes, he was there, he was productive. But I could tell when we were walking off the court at halftime he was painfully hurting. But he wanted to play, but just no way. It’s always when someone goes down, it gives someone the chance to play and they wouldn’t be here if they weren’t good players. It will give them the opportunity to see what they can do.”
On if he feels like this is a team that needs a pat on the back instead of a kick in the butt
“Well I think we’ll be who we are. I think the main thing is your always real and what I told you guys is what I told them. I was proud of the fight. I think they know I’m going to be honest with them when we scrub out film and all that. I think players easily can understand when you’re not being real with them. If I thought they needed a kick in the butt today that’s what I would have given them. If I thought they needed after the game, that’s what I would have given them. That’s not what I felt. I felt like we had fought and gave it everything we had and got beat on a desperation shot. You go back to the game against Vandy, that was a defensive breakdown that we shouldn’t have had but that game (Missouri) was one of those desperation shots that we couldn’t have done it any different, but the fact is players, we all know each other. The main thing anything you go through and deal with the kind of losses we had is every person has to deal with it in their own way and the fact is the one thing that has to happen as a team is you have to stay connected and this group of guys will stay connected.”
On the Brandon Miller and Kevin Durant comparisons
“I don’t think that’s fair to do player comparisons. I know this that Brandon is having a great, great year as did Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant won every National Player of the Year honors you could win. I think he was the first freshman to sweep them all. But Brandon Miller has got high level game at every level. I think Brandon Miller is Brandon Miller and I think Kevin Durant is Kevin Durant and certainly Brandon Miller has made an unbelievable impact on college basketball this year, doing the things he’s good at. Obviously has a great future in this game and I look at the Alabama team and they’re more than worthy of being the No. 1 ranked team in the country. They’ve earned it and maybe should have been there before right now. They have a great roster construction where everyone understands what they need and guys play their roles. They have the perimeter game. They have rim protection. They have guys that can score and get to the rim over top and dunk the ball. Nate Oats and his staff have done a great job and have more than earned the right to be the No. 1 team in the country. Like I said, I think they probably should have been there before now.”
On how you slow down Brandon Miller
“I don’t think you stop great players. You have to try and work hard and when the day’s done he’s going to get his points and you just have to hope that he had to work to get all of them, but when it comes to playing against great players, great teams you’re not going to stop them. You just have to hope everything they get they had to earn it.
On if he believes Alabama’s defense is underrated
“Absolutely. Their perimeter guys do what they need to do. They understand they have rim protection inside and I believe, they believe if you want to go in there we have some guys that can clean some things up. They’ll play personnel, they’ll play analytics. They would not have been able to win so many games they’ve won, in places that they’ve won without being solid, more than solid. They’re a much better defensive team than I think people give them credit for.”
On what they learned about themselves down 17 against Missouri
“I think it just shows you our team. Again, there’s a lot of basketball left to play and the fact that we did what we did and guys are ready to go in and play. What we need, it goes back to we need more consistency out of certain players. I can’t say enough about Tyreke and Jahmai and Tobe. Certainly Z(akai) and Santi, both those guys played their hearts out. They let their emotion get going a little bit where they both had some uncharacteristic fouls that they shouldn’t have but that’s just from being high level competitors and going at it. Then Jonas I thought did a good job. I thought Olivier showed he could really guard when he came back in the game in the last couple minutes there. We need that all the time. I thought Uros’ minutes were there but games get into matchups and what I think we have to do. When we made the adjustments that I feel like we had to make— I’m really, again, proud of the fight these guys put up.”
On if they’re on the verge of getting consistency from Tyreke Key
“Yeah, I hope so. I thought he missed some shots early but kept that thing loaded and kept shooting and that’s what we needed him to do. And doing it in a lot of different ways. That and, again, I thought Julian came out with a great mindset too. Yeah, I do think Tyreke and now at the time we need them all to get consistent.”
On the importance of getting Tyreke Key early shots
“He’s got to shoot it. I tell these guys, if they don’t take open shots they’re never going to get in rhythm. They’ve got to get some rhythm going and even if they miss a few of them— and the key is when you do miss them you still have to be willing to take your open shots. You can’t stop and once you stop you start turning down shots and other people sense it and other teams do, certainly, and it can affect your team. We just need our guys, when they get the looks we want them to get, they have to take it.”