Tennessee will honor their five senior players on Tuesday night as the Vols are set to host Arkansas in Knoxville.
The Vols’ five senior players include Tyreke Key, Olivier Nkamhoua, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, and Uros Plavsic.
“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,” Barnes said on Monday. “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. … 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.”
James, Nkamhoua, Plavsic, and Vescovi each have four years of experience under their belts at the University of Tennessee. While the previous era of Tennessee basketball will be remembered for names such as Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, and John Fulkerson, this era will be known for these four players.
Combined, they have 407 games of experience in a Tennessee uniform. That only comes through dedication and passion.
Not including the on-court accomplishments like 2021’s SEC Tournament championship, these four players have also been staples outside of the Tennessee basketball program with other sports. Whether it was baseball, softball, football, tennis, or something else in between, these four guys were often at the events cheering with the other students in the crowd.
IT IS GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL ! pic.twitter.com/O5dMCBMhdY
— Uroš Plavšić (@urosp33) September 24, 2022
More from RTI: Rick Barnes Provides Health Report for Julian Phillips, Tyreke Key
.@Vol_Tennis wins their super regional matchup today against Florida State and the fans go out on the court to celebrate, one of which being Santiago Vescovi. pic.twitter.com/84P5kplyl5
— Jack Foster (@jackfostermedia) May 14, 2022
“The credit goes to them because, one, they’re really good people,” Barnes said. “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.”
The four longtime Tennessee players – James, Plavsic, Nkamhoua, and Vescovi – battled through a lot during their four years in Knoxville. As mentioned by Barnes, injuries were certainly one big obstacle. But it goes bigger than that, too. Three of those four came from outside of America and had to adjust to life on a college campus. All four also had to battle through the rough COVID season in 2020 and 2021 as well. But, through hard work and effort, all of those obstacles just became some form of motivation.
The last few weeks haven't been easy on Olivier.
So Mom flew in from Helsinki for a surprise visit 🧡 pic.twitter.com/9xLXRJy1vJ
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) February 26, 2022
Tyreke Key, an in-state player from Celina, TN, joined the Volunteers team this past offseason after spending four years at Indiana State. Key originally played for Clay County High School and will now be able to participate in Senior Day back in his home state of Tennessee.
Tennessee will honor their five senior players on Tuesday night before the Arkansas contest. After that, though, comes to Auburn game on the road. Then the SEC Tournament, then the NCAA Tournament. The point is, there are still a lot of games that Tennessee is hoping to play between now and the offseason. And head coach Rick Barnes isn’t having any of the conversations about the future in the present.
“There will come a time for that,” Barnes said. “There will be.”
Until that time comes, Tennessee is looking ahead.
“I think what those guys want to do right now is win,” Barnes said. “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.”
No. 12 Tennessee will host Arkansas at 9:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday night in Knoxville.
Guard/Forward Josiah-Jordan James
- 2022-2023: 17 games played, 10.0 points per game, 5.1 rebounds per game, 1.6 assists per game
- Career: 101 GP, 8.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.1 APG
Guard Santiago Vescovi
- 2022-2023: 26 GP, 12.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.9 APG
- Career: 107 GP, 11.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.2 APG
Forward Olivier Nkamhoua
- 2022-2023: 29 GP, 10.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
- Career: 105 GP, 6.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.9 APG
Center Uros Plavsic
- 2022-2023: 27 GP, 5.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 0.8 APG
- Career: 94 GP, 3.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 0.5 APG
Guard Tyreke Key
- 2022-2023: 27 GP, 8.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 1.4 APG
- Career: 141 GP, 13.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 1.7 APG