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Everything Rick Barnes Said Before Tennessee Faces Arkansas

Rick Barnes Olivier Nkamhoua
Tennessee HC Rick Barnes and F Olivier Nkamhoua. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes met with the media Monday as the Vols prepare to face Arkansas Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Vols are coming off a blowout win over South Carolina to cap off a 1-1 week. Entering the final week of the regular season, Tennessee has plenty to play for with SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament seeding.

Barnes discussed Arkansas, Tennessee’s seniors and much more Monday afternoon. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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On what they saw on film from Tennessee’s win over South Carolina

“I thought both teams played hard, aggressive. Obviously we’ve talked a lot about discipline, not fouling. I thought our guys worked hard at trying not to do that. South Carolina, I think the same thing with their lack of depth. I thought our movement, our speed, was really good on offense, defense. Still, after every game, there’s something you look at that you know you’ve got to continue to clean up. And it will still go back to our ball-screen defense and our coverage there. The fact that we took care of the basketball. I thought for the most part we took really good shots, where our feet were set. We had looks at it from the perimeter. Then we did play inside, out. We had a good combination, mix of what we need to have.”

On Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key’s status

“I think they’ll be game-time decisions.”

On if they know what caused Tyreke Key’s ankle to swell

“You know what, he’s had some issues from the past. Tyreke is. Very tough-minded person. He’s a guy that if he’s hurt, he pretty much keeps it to himself. And he would tell you he has no idea what made it swell up on him the way it did when he walked in here on Saturday. But he is doing everything. And obviously Chad (Newman) and Garrett (Medenwald) are doing everything they can from their part.”

On how Josiah-Jordan James responded after making his return from injury

“I thought he did. I thought he was very poised. Certainly his presence really does help Santi (Vescovi) and Zakai (Zeigler) and those guys are playing, because he’s been in a lot of big situations, big moments with us. I thought his demeanor was terrific. He is certainly not in the physical shape that he wants to be in, but he’ll get himself back there. Because I think this couple weeks, when you talk about an ankle injury he’s had, it’s hard to keep your conditioning up. I don’t think you can get out of shape at this time of year, with the work that he’s done, but it will take a little bit, a couple days, to get it back where he wants to be. Overall, his presence made a big difference.”

On the difference Josiah-Jordan James makes in offensive spacing

“Not only that, but he understands the offense probably better than anybody out here. Because he’s played every spot on the floor for us. But he sees it. He’s got a great feel for what I think he knows we’re looking for as a team. The inside-out opportunities that are there. He’s been around. He’s been in a lot of different situations for us. Again, he knows what we’re trying to get done. He and Santi, certainly, they know. That’s why they play so well together. But we need him.”

On how Nick Smith being back changes Arkansas

“Well, they’re a very aggressive team. They’ve always been a terrific defensive team. They defend the 3-point line as well as anybody you’ll play. But the difference a year ago, they force you inside, had a player that was looking to pick up charges. This year they’ve got shot-blockers. So when you go in there, you better know what you’re getting ready to encounter. They really do play extremely hard defensively. Then offensively, another team that looks to really get the ball to the basket, attack the lane area in different ways. Not just off the dribble — off the handoffs, any way they can create an angle to get downhill, they’re going to try to do that.” 

On Jahmai’s progress making it easier not to rush Phillips back

“I think it does and the fact that Jahmai has earned his way into our lineup and he’s a factor. I told you guys a couple weeks ago and I told him that he doesn’t have to think that when someone’s coming back it’s going to lessen what he does because what he brings is unique and we need him to do that every single night. I think the one thing that’s happened through these couple weeks since the guys have been out is it has allowed him to grow and get more of a feel for what’s going on. You can see he’s much more relaxed for the most part on the offensive end and defensively he continues to do what he does on that end as well as rebound the basketball on both ends.”

On talking to his seniors about what they want to do next

“I think what those guys want to do right now is win. They understand this time of year because they’ve been through it more than anybody, these next couple weeks, how important they are and how it’s such a fine line between winning and losing, but I don’t think their thoughts are anywhere besides trying to make this basketball team the best it can be with what we have left.”

On if it’s a possibility any could use their COVID-19 season and return

“There will come a time for that. There will be. Right now, I don’t think, and again I’ve said to you before, this team has been resilient. This team has shown some real maturity in some difficult times when it’s tough obviously. The fact is there’s a time for all that and right now the time is that we still have basketball games to play here over the next couple weeks and we hope we can string it out as long as we can.”

On what the senior class has meant to the program

“You think about it, it was a transition class too because we had had— really got the program— in the class that came in before, that group of guys had done a great job of really building the culture. The foundation of what we want the program to be built on and those guys came in and a bunch of them had to be thrust out there right from the beginning to perform at a high level in this league. This league has grown tremendously in the eight years I’ve been here. I think it’s arguably as good as any basketball league in the country talent wise over the last couple years, probably been the best. So they had to come in and deal with not only trying to keep us continue what we were doing but trying to get it to another level and knowing that the league itself was better. Other teams in the league was growing as well and these guys have made an unbelievable impact. They’ve all had to deal with some adversity along the way. Some injuries here, there, other things. They’ve stuck together and think they have a great deal of respect for themselves as a team and teammates. I do know this, they have fallen in love with the University of Tennessee and Vol Nation. The good things people should be saying about them is more than worthy to be said because they love this place and truly have given everything to help us try to be one of the best basketball programs in the country.”

On the significance of locking up the double bye in SEC Tournament

“If it is, it is. If not, you look at it the other way. Some of these guys need more games. You obviously look at it from one point, it would obviously be great to have another day to rest but from the other end you’ve got to play, you’ve got to play. WIll determine it based on how we perform but it is what it is. If we can get it, fine. If not, we’ll have to make what we have and deal with it.”

On the seniors being from all over the world and bonding

“The credit goes to them because one they’re really good people. They come from families where they have been taught the difference between right and wrong. They understand the word respect. I think they understand humility and character. I know they understand hard work and when you get a group of guys together and they’re all pulling in the same direction, they all want to be professional basketball players some day and I think they realize the easiest way to do it is to have someone running beside you that’s going in the same direction than someone pulling in the other direction. That’s what I would say as a group. They have great respect for each other and they all go about it a little bit different. Some guys, they absolutely don’t know what to do if they’re not in the gym. Other guys understand that when I’m in the gym, I’m going to maximize my time. That respect level is — I can tell you a bunch of guys come back at night. Some guys choose not to do that, but they get their work done in a different way. There’s such a great respect for each other in knowing that when they come together, they have one goal and that’s to be the best team that they can be.”

On how important Uros Plavsic is in physical games

“That’s what he does. He brings a physicality to us. He has done that since he’s been here and that’s why we need everyone of these guys. You can, as a coaching staff, you’ll think, ‘Well, okay, we’re going to move in this direction,’ but then you come out and something happens where a guy is not getting it done. And then you gotta say, ‘Okay, well then you gotta go this way.’ That’s why you have to keep everyone engaged from game-to-game regardless of if they play 20 minutes or three minutes because you know the next game is going to take on its own personality. That personality, we really don’t know until the game starts. You don’t know how it’s going to be officiated, you don’t know injuries, you don’t know any of that. The fact that we’ve had guys that have played 20 minutes and then three minutes — the fact that they’ve stayed engaged I think speaks volumes about their character and respect for each other.”

On if he feels Jonas Aidoo has been more consistent since being inserted into the starting lineup

“Yeah, I thought the other night, you go back to the last two games, people have definitely felt like they need to go right through his chest. You go back to the A&M game where he got in foul trouble, when he got in the game, they were definitely going right at him. Then, the other night, we actually told him his scouting report was simple, ‘When your shot goes up, you’re going to have to block out a guy that’s much stronger and has a lot more girth.’ He had a tough time early, but I did think he responded and came back in the second half and did a better job of getting his hands over his shoulders quicker. Knowing that physically, he does and should understand that people are physically going to try to get real physical with him and drive him under the basket, try to push him back as much they can. I expect him to respond like he did in the second half.”

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