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What Rick Barnes Said During The Big Orange Caravan On Wednesday Night

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media in Kingsport on Wednesday evening as the Big Orange Caravan made its final stop of the year.

Barnes discussed the status of his roster, traveling the state with new Lady Vols head coach Kim Caldwell and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

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On Tennessee having three open scholarship spots and if he ever gets concerned with how quickly the Vols need to fill them

“Not really. I think the key is being deliberate and in terms of knowing what you want do when you’re really trying to construct a roster. And I think probably the worst thing you can do is feel like you got to do something quickly without really thinking it through. But we are really happy with where we are right now. We’re going to be really selective with what we have left.” 

On if they’re selling Tennessee’s defense to prospects in the portal

“Well, obviously people talk about it because a year ago this time, no one knew who Dalton Knecht really was on the national level. And so obviously when we’re talking to people, his name comes up. But not just his, I mean, every guy on our team. People want talk about Zakai Zeiglar and Jahmai Mashack, guys who they want to play with. And the fact is, whether it’s someone in your program right now or whether someone we’ve recruited or someone we’ve had, we’re looking for somebody to make that same kind of jump that (Knecht) made. And none of us knew that he was going to be able to do what he did. And hopefully someone else can make the same jump he did.”

On what John Fulkerson meant to the Tennessee program during 

“Well, (he) was important to us when we first got here. He was one of the first guys that we targeted, when we knew the foundation that we wanted to build our program on. And John, it seemed like he was here forever. Now it seems like he’s been gone a long time. But he made an incredible impact with our program in more ways than what he saw on the basketball court. And we’re extremely proud of him. I know that he’s playing professional ball now. I think he had a tough year this year with an injury, but he’ll be back because he’s a fighter. But again, he, he’s a VFL and always will be special to us because he was part of really laying the foundation of where we are today.”

On what skillset Tennessee is targeting in the portal  

Well, I think what we’re looking for now is the best player we can find. And someone that … you’re always looking to add some scoring if you can. And that’s something we look at, whether it’s up front or in the back court. But right now it’s whatever we do, it’s got to be something that we think that we don’t have and something that we know can benefit us.”

On Tennessee having success finding high school kids late in the process, what the market is like

“No, I think now you think about how many guys are still in the portal and we come every day and not just the guys that are are coming in, but the guys that are there because I think we have put together a really nice analytical program to help us sort through it, trying to find out the things that we think that has in the past proven to be successful when you make a jump from certain levels to this level. But I always think there’s somebody out there and I’ve said my whole career, there’s enough players for everybody.  You just need to find the ones that fit you and we still think there’s a couple guys out there that will fit us.”

On if there’s still high school guys out there that fit them

“I do think the portal right now is probably where high school players are probably overlooked a little bit more. There’s some schools now that are strictly going to go forward (using the portal) and because of that, that means there’s high school players that are going to be overlooked and we’re not gonna do that. We’ll keep our eye there and we always will, but we’re in a different era. I mean like, we knew we were going to lose some guys. We obviously lost two that we didn’t think we would lose, but that happens and we’re no different than anybody else. I think probably most teams were surprised at something, maybe some guys leaving.  But we feel like we’ve been able to— you have to have the attitude that when you lose guys, whether it’s through graduation, whatever, this gives us an opportunity to try to get better and we feel like we’ve done that.”

On the important of fan support in the changing landscape

“Our fans, they’re really important. When you come to a football game, basketball game, baseball game, softball game, volleyball game, you go down the line. I was at Tennis Sunday and you just feel the love that our fan base has for the University of Tennessee and its athletic department. You can’t come in this state without feeling the impact of the power team. And with that said, when you bring a recruit into a basketball game or any of those other events, they feel something special about Rocky Top. And we’ve actually talked to some guys the other day, and I love it when they say to me, we’re looking forward to visiting Rocky Top. And so we know it’s a national brand and something that people know about and I think we’re going continue to build it with because of the success that not just the athletic department is having but the university with the great leadership from Randy Boyd and Donde Plowman and Danny White. What they’ve done is really remarkable and it’s fun to be a part of.”

On Lady Vols coach Kim Caldwell saying that she’s enjoyed being around Rick Barnes during the Big Orange Caravan, how much he enjoys being able to help young coaches

“Well, I’ve really enjoyed time with Kim. One, she’s gonna be successful and I can learn from her as much as talk about wisdom. I think you can feel her passion. You can. I’ve seen what she’s done in a short time with what she’s got going right now, the way that they spent the spring here. But I’ve really enjoyed time with her and I think she’s all — this has obviously been new to her — but the way she’s handled everything has been really remarkable.

“I think it just shows you that Danny White knew what he was looking for when he went out there and made a great hire. She’s a basketball person and you can tell from our last trip. We watched a little film together and were talking about it. You can just tell from her insight, she knows what she’s doing and like I said, I love talking basketball with coaches and I think she and I will will end up spending time talking basketball and like I said, I think I can learn from her.”

On the game this past season that stands out to him when he reflects on the season

“Probably the North Carolina game because we hadn’t played totally up to what we were capable of to that point. And I thought the second half Zakai (Zeigler) found himself. Dalton, obviously that was a time when he really, you knew that, hey, this guy is not gonna shy away from the bright lights. But that was the game where again, I thought Zakai got it back and from that point it was just a matter of now we know what we’ve got at this point.

“It’s a matter of just putting it together. But there’s so many games throughout the year, so many ups and downs you go through emotionally and physically, but anytime you get to the NCAA tournament, you can advance and get close and just makes you want more the next year. And hopefully our guys, and I know they want more. I can tell by the way they’ve approached the spring workouts and so it’ll be here before you start next week. We’ll have guys starting to trickle in here, so we’re really back into swing for next year.”

On getting away from Knoxville for a couple of days to spend time with Tennessee fans

“Well, you know, you’re part of something special. You know, your whole life, when you do what we do, you want to be appreciated. You want to know people love it. And you can’t be a Tennessee Volunteer and go out like this and not feel like, hey, you’re blessed to be have the job that I have and know that there’s so many people that care and there’s just those blue-blooded Volunteer fans that you know they’re gonna be with you, they’re gonna stick with you. And it goes back to really nine years ago when I first got here. A good friend of mine, Kevin Felton, said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be surprised by the Volunteer basketball base. And he’s right. But now I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised by anything that happens within our fan base because truly, I think they’re the best in the country.”

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