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Everything Rick Barnes Said Thursday On Transfer Portal, Roster Building

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Thursday afternoon to discuss the early stages of the offseason.

The Vols’ veteran head coach discussed losing key players in the transfer portal, the excitement of building a new roster and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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On how different it is for college basketball coaches in April in the transfer portal era

“It’s so much different than it was five years ago. Because right now, this month is probably the most hectic, busiest month that we go through now because of where we are with the game, with the portal and everything. And we literally have not stopped from what we normally do. And because it’s where we are right now in this phase of basketball. And you’ve always had to be able to adjust for as long as I’ve been in this. Guys could transfer differently. But now with what they’re doing now, it’s different obviously, but I think I’m very fortunate to have a great staff that’s locked in. They know what we’re doing, they understand the climate we’re in right now, and we try to stay ahead of it as much as we can and don’t get surprised too much, but sometimes you do. And when that happens, you just got to realize that maybe you’ve got a chance to remake a roster and maybe do it a little bit different, maybe try to find a way to, obviously, try to make it better. But it’s a different time right now in college of basketball. In terms of this month.”

On the roster needs for Tennessee basketball next season 

“Well, you think about it, we’re losing really four starters. Three of them to graduation and one into the portal. And we feel that. As much as we know we’re going to have to do that, we also know that we’ve got young players, we’ve got confidence in them. We want those guys to continue to grow and be a major part of what we do going forward. But I look at it as an opportunity. Every year you have a different team, even if you have a group that comes back from one year to the next. If they stay where they are, you’re not going to be as good. 

So every year the excitement of putting together a team and putting the parts together is, honestly, it’s fun. It really is. So we’re looking forward to continuing to build this roster.”

On if he’s open to players returning to Tennessee after entering the NCAA Transfer Portal  

“It’s based on how it happened. And based on how I know things happen, you’re always flexible, open to it. But some cases, yes, some cases not.”

On if that’s a conversation he’s had with Tennessee sophomore forward Tobe Awaka

“Yeah. We respected Tobe a lot and we still do. But oftentimes we’ve had guys tell us that after they had left they’ve made mistakes. And sometimes in a rush in the moment people can listen to people and realize that maybe they maybe should have waited and thought it all out a bit more. But Tobe obviously, you know, we all respect him and love him for what he did for us. But if he feels he’s got to go through the process, he needs to do it. But with that said, we’re not waiting, because we’re going to move forward and build this roster as quickly as we can.”

On if it’s harder to build and maintain a culture when there is so much change on roster from year to year

“Well, I would say that our players in our program are important. The guys that are coming back. We expect that. But you can go further now, every year you can turn it over, a lot more guys can leave. Even those guys, if you don’t have a chance to get those younger guys understanding what it’s about. But it’s like us coming here our first year, I remember we came here, not to criticize anybody that was before us or anything, everybody’s got a culture. 

Everybody. I don’t care what it is, everybody’s got one. But you’ve got to get yours in place. And what I would like to think going forward, if we didn’t have enough guys coming back to really understood it, that we’d rely on our older players if we could get them back here to talk about it. But yet with that said, it goes back to our staff knowing that the kind of players we want to prove that. We will obviously talk about what we’re trying to get done and hope that we find those guys. Because there’s enough guys out there for everybody, that you just got to find the ones that fit you and what you want to do. And I think the best way to do that is just total transparency.”

On what he liked about Hofstra wing Darlinstone Dubar, who signed with Tennessee on Thursday

“A guy that, just what we were just talking about, what we’re about, he’s about. I just love hearing him talk about one, how excited he is to play defense with Jahmai (Mashack) and (Zakai Zeigler. Versatility, he has that. But he’s got the right mindset and he wants to get better. And we’re really excited … he saw what he wanted to do and he wanted to be a part of it. Special kid, very special kid. And you can tell he is a worker, got a lot of desire. He wants to be able to be really good.” 

On if he would classify the departure of Tennessee junior center Jonas Aidoo as a surprise

“Yeah, because he had told everybody he was fine.”

On building the Tennessee program on players who were patient and stuck with it, how that’s harder to do in the transfer portal era

“You don’t know. We have guys that literally tell us, hey, they love it, they’re here. Then they come in a day later and they’ve talked to someone else and they’re gone. And here’s all I know, that we’ve got a wonderful thing going here. This is a great opportunity for a lot of people. And I can tell you our phone rings off the hook because people want to be a part of this. I just got a text from one of my former players, said a guy that just put his name in (the transfer portal) said he wants to talk to you guys. And so as much as you would like to get the continuity and the consistency and help guys grow and get where they want to go, if they choose to go elsewhere, all it does is it’s like graduation, it opens up the door for somebody else. It gives a chance. That’s what makes college basketball great, because every year you see players go out, players come in. And that’s why March Madness is always a big thing because it seems like every year, for the most part, there’s new guys that step up on the platform and have a chance to shine. But there’s players out there. And the sad part of the whole portal is there’s a lot of guys that will go into it will end up with nothing. That’s the sad part. But the fact is where we are, and I think schools at our level, you’re going to be able to put together a good team and then see what you can do with it.”

On if they look for best available post players in the portal or guys that complement JP Estrella

“It’s all evaluation,  about our program. And again, we’re building a roster. I mean, when you build a roster, you’re trying to do everything to complement who you have. And so it’s about our evaluation is really important. You know, we’ve built out the program that we use that helps us to get started with it, but it still goes back to our eyes and our field and talking to a lot of people getting the intel that we need. But it’s constructing a roster and it’s all based on putting the team together that really complements each other.”

On what he wants to see from Zakai Zeigler in a more traditional offseason

“I mean, we’re back in our workouts right now and if you come up and watch him and those guys, they know that where they want to go, their ultimate goal, they know they’ve gotta continue to get better and improve. We get feedback from everybody, we do that and we talk to them about it. And I mean, what he’s done in his three years, I mean, the way he’s touched this program in so many different ways, it’s really remarkable. It’s a remarkable story because I mean, when we got him, we fully planned to redshirt him and after three days he changed that (not) we did, he changed it and he hasn’t looked back. And he’s such an important piece because of the way he impacts everyone. He just gives everybody a sense of a competitive spirit willing to work. But if you watched him yesterday, you’ll watch him today. He’s going at it like it was first day of the season or the last day of the season. He doesn’t change, he just tries to get better.”

On what his message was to Jahmai Mashack in end of season messages, what they need from him ahead of next season

“I expect from him, everybody coming back, we all have to get better. I mean, that’s what I said. Everyteam you got, he’s been through it. We’ve got a number of guys that what we went through this year. I’ve told the freshmen they had a great advantage. They got to practice for, you know, six months, eight months against a top five team in the country. And so they know, and there’s days when they were right there, we know it, they know it. But what we talk about is everybody getting better, everybody. And he will because he’s gotten better every year he’s been here and he will get better. And I mean, you go down the roster, we expect every one of those guys to get better. And we have confidence because we know them, we know how committed they are. And he’s been, again, I go back to Jahmai, he’s been a big part of this too. I mean, he’s a guy that he’s unique and what he brings is he’s got a great talent and what we need him to do is be a star in his role. And he will be because he embraces it. He’s competitive, which is an unbelievable talent and he’s going to work at it. And again, what I said about Z(akai), I could say the same thing about him (Jahmai).”

On making sure they continue to keep the culture in a sped up recruiting period

“A lot again evaluation as opposed to recruiting. There’s a difference. I mean, you can just go out and say this guy’s ranked here in the portal. We want to make a splash by signing a guy that’s got a higher reputation, maybe coming in. It goes back to us complementing what we have here, what we want to do, how we see building, again, constructing this roster. But I go back and I said it a little bit ago that our staff, I mean, they know, they know who we feel can play for us and how we do things and we feel like we’ve got a formula that’s been consistent and we want to, and we talk about it. I mean, we’re just brutally honest in recruiting. We tell it the way it is and what we need and that’s how we go about it.”

On what he envisions Cam Carr’s role being next season

“What he’s doing now and what he did this year. Like all young players that come in and if he were standing here along with all the freshmen, they would tell you that I used to ask Cam after almost every game, what’d you learn today? What’d you learn? And I’m telling you what I respected about him and Cade (Phillips) like Cade would make the comment, I realize you don’t have to do something every time you get the ball. Cam would say to me along with the other guys, so much harder than you think. And the fact that when you watch those guys play as hard as they play for as long as they play, he made the comment you can’t know that until you watch it and see it every day. But I’ve watched him elevate his play all through the season. I’ve watched all of them do that. And again, we’re excited about those guys and we think that those are the guys that we know are gonna make giant steps forward because of what they went through this year, what they got to see up close and personal, the physicality of it. Once you get into the tournament, the league play, the intensity on every possession, all that. It’s something that you can talk about it, you can talk about it to everybody but until they actually are a part of it and see it, I’m not sure they understand it until they go through it. And that’s where these younger guys understand what they really now what they’re getting into.”

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