Tennessee coach Rick Barnes met with the local media over Zoom on Friday night before the Vols open up play at the Maui Invitational.
The Vols enter the tournament 3-0 with a win at Wisconsin in their lone regular season challenge to date. Tennessee faces Syracuse in its first game of the Maui Invitational on Monday afternoon and will play either Purdue or Gonzaga on Tuesday and one of Kansas, Marquette, UCLA and Chaminade on Wednesday.
Barnes discussed the health of redshirt freshman guard Freddie Dilione, managing Zakai Zeigler and much more ahead of the marquee non conference tournament.
Here’s everything Barnes said.
More From RTI: Jordan Gainey Sparking Tennessee Basketball Off The Bench
On Freddie Dilione’s MRI and his status for the Maui Invitational
“What I heard is it’s partial tear in his plantar fasciitis down there. But I haven’t even asked about time table yet. I think it varies on the degree that it’s partially torn. Other than that, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s what I remember them telling me about it.”
On if this Maui Invitational bracket is as deep as any November tournament he’s never been a part of
“You know what, it’s funny you say that. When I walked back over on Hawaii’s campus today, back in, I think it was ’86, ’85, the year I was at Ohio State, we came over and played, I think it was called the Rainbow Classic at the time. And I remember it being talked about that year there was like four of the six teams who were all ranked. You know, I had forgot all about that until I walked back on campus and Deja vu kind of came back. But as a head coach, no. I mean, I don’t know if you can get one better than where the teams are playing right now. And all of them are geared up to have a pretty good year.”
On if Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi are still adjusting to playing with Jordan Gainey and Dalton Knecht on this Tennessee team after missing the preseason exhibition games
“It’s probably a little bit of both. I would think both of them really enjoy playing with Dalton and Jordan. I would say that, but I do think ‘Z’ coming back is, for him, it’s different. Santi, I know that he went through a very tough, emotional time even before he left. But I really think they’ve adjusted and I would tell you they all, no question, want to. They’ve embraced them as well as you can. But you know, I’m thinking about still ourselves here, how to, because ‘Z’ is still under that time restriction that we’re trying to keep him under and still trying to get the minutes and the rotations the way we need to get them.
“And we got other guys that we believe that are going to get into the rotation. I mean, as we go forward, every game we feel like we need to get Tobe (Awaka) more minutes. Someone asks the other night about (if) will we play the two big guys together. And we fully think that’s gonna happen at some point in time we’re gonna do that. But it’s just still as we go through here, I think this tournament is gonna be good. And we’ll come out of this with a lot of the answers that we, that you all, and we as a coaches staff probably have.”
On if Tennessee playing three games in three days changes anything with Zakai Zeigler’s minutes restriction
“I think the last game he was around 19 minutes, 20 minutes. I don’t know if he’s (trainer Chad Newman) gonna tell me he’s gonna go to 22 or 23, somewhere in there, you know? To be quite frank, early in the year, we’d like to keep as many guys around the 20, those key guys, 27, 28 minutes. But you’re in a tournament, you do what you have to do. But again, I think tomorrow, we just got back and we did a more of a shooting workout today, and we’ll start our two-day out prep. Really we’ll do it tonight because, we got these early games here. We get up early and so we’re gonna have to change up some things. But we’re gonna see I guess as we go through it. But we’re counting on our depth to help us here.”
On if Freddie Dilione V has been ruled out of the Maui Invitational despite Tennessee not having a firm timetable on his injury at this point
“I would think that’s a fair assessment. I should have asked Chad before I came in but I just know— when I was there when the results came back the other day they thought it could be a week, week and a half. That’s what they said. From there it’ll depend on his progression and what he can do. He’d been having some problems with it and he was trying to push through everything he could. During the game he just said he felt something pop and he partially tore it.”
On how unique the path was that Dalton Knecht took to get here, going from high school to junior college to Northern Colorado before transferring to Tennessee
“I do think it’s unique. I think we’re gonna start seeing more and more stories like this, though. I think there are guys that have. Andy Katz was telling me today, some kid (Tyler Kolek) that started out at George Mason, then I think did he ended up at Marquette. I think he had a similar path. I think his player of the year in the Big East has a chance to do it again. And I think we’re gonna see more stories with guys doing what Dalton has done. He certainly has done all … he’s pushed all the right buttons with our guys. I mean, they really respect him and they know that we need him. They know that he brings us something. He’s been able to take pressure off players certainly because of the fact that he does have a knack to score the ball and is willing to take shots and can create some tough shots for himself.
“But I admire him because for the fact that during the recruiting process, he says, I know I’ve gotta get better defensively and I know you’ll hold me accountable. And he’s embraced that part of it. And offensively, it’ll get tougher for him as it goes because he’s gonna continue to get game-planned for in ways that he never has been. But I think what’s gonna help him is he’s gonna have those other guys to help carry him when he’s getting that kind of attention. And he made a couple great passes the other night when he was starting to get double-teamed and all that’s going to probably, I mean, I’m sure he has been double-teamed in the past, but he’s gonna get more attention now than he ever has once he gets the ball in certain areas of the court.”
On Tennessee’s rebounding issues against Wofford
“Well, I will tell you after seeing it on tape, they shot, we got pursuit, but you know what, we didn’t block out. Guys turned and went and we told them that they were gonna shoot a bunch of threes. How many, we didn’t know. I don’t know if we saw them. They were going to shoot close to what, 38, 40, whatever it was. So we were running past the ball and we gotta check first. But with long shots, there’s gonna be long rebounds and Tobe obviously has a great way of going to get it. But the problem was, it’s just, again, we were going, but we should have been checking first and we didn’t have to go. We ran under the ball more than we should have.”