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Rick Barnes Details Behind-The-Scenes of Dalton Knecht’s Draft Day

Rick Barnes Dalton Knecht
Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht alongside his parents Corey and Carrie, Rick Barnes, and Rod Clark. Photo courtesy Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics.

When Dalton Knecht asked his coach to be at the NBA Draft with him, the answer was a resounding yes.

While just spending one year at Tennessee, Knecht and Vols head coach Rick Barnes developed a bond on and off the court. Knecht initially chose Tennessee partially due to the fact that he would receive hard, critical coaching from Barnes and his staff. And with practices open to the media throughout the season, it’s safe to say that the tough coaching was intertwined with Barnes’ relationship with Knecht from the start.

Barnes and his staff elevated Knecht’s game, giving him room to shine as Tennessee’s top offensive threat. Knecht flourished in Tennessee’s offense while leading the Vols to an Elite Eight appearance this past spring. Knecht would become the SEC Player of the Year, a First Team All-SEC selection, and a consensus First Team All-American.

When Knecht sent Barnes a text to ask if he would be in the Green Room with him, the Vols’ coach didn’t hesitate in his answer.

“Well, if I let you read the text, I had to go,” Barnes said on Friday. “Dalton really called me and told me, he said, coach, it would mean a lot to me if you would come. And he said, it really would. And I said, you don’t have to say anymore. I’ll be there.”

Along with Knecht’s parents Corey and Carrie Knecht, Barnes was also joined by Tennessee assistant coach Rod Clark in Dalton’s draft day entourage.

“Well, he’s got such a great family,” Barnes said. “He had a lot of family there and has traveled a long way to be there and be a part of it.”

The group waited patiently during the draft but Knecht’s phone wasn’t ringing as early as many expected. Projected as a lottery pick before draft day on Wednesday, Knecht was falling out of his projected range as teams went in different directions.

“We were sitting there talking, well, you know, you got to Tennessee in a roundabout way in terms of not many people know about you,” Barnes recalled telling Knecht as they waited for his name to be called. “And now you’ve always sort of had a chip on your shoulder wanting to prove people wrong. And you can use it that way too. But this is nothing to be ashamed of or any of that. I think every player wants to be a lottery pick. Sometimes it works out better with who you get drafted by.”

Barnes reiterated to Knecht to keep perspective in mind as he waited despite the inevitable swirling feelings on the inside.

“I told him, I said now every player that we ever recruit, every player, their dream is to one day think about, dream about having their name called,” Barnes recalled saying. “And as you know, 99.9% of them don’t get that opportunity. Just having a chance to be in that green room and have your name called, regardless of where it might be is in itself a dream come true.”

One player’s slide is another team’s steal, though, and that was especially true in Knecht’s case. The former Vol was selected 17th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers as the historic franchise gears up for a playoff run in the late stages of Lebron James’s career. Knecht will also pair up with newly appointed head coach JJ Redick and see his game elevate with the offensive prowess that Redick brings to the table.

More from RTI: Analysis: What Dalton Knecht Brings to the Lakers

“I think just his work ethic, I think he’s gonna love that about Dalton because Dalton is going to be in the gym as much as JJ was,” Barnes said about how Redick can maximize Knecht’s abilities on the court. “And I think JJ will pick up on that really quick.  And the fact is Dalton has watched tape of him. I think JJ will talk to him about even getting more scrappy and what he’s going to have to do to become even a better player in all areas of the game.”

Barnes and Knecht specifically watched tape of Redick during the season to unlock new things in the Tennessee wing’s game. Redick was a successful longtime perimeter shooter in the NBA and continued to evolve his game to stay on top. In some ways, Knecht almost feels like an extension of Redick’s career if the coach didn’t age and could still be playing.

Knecht will now head to Hollywood as the steal of the draft with many national outlets awarding the Lakers an A+ for the pick. Barnes would agree.

“And so I think all said and done, I think it’s a great scenario for Dalton and he’s excited about it and has a chance to go to one of the greatest franchises in sports history and play certainly with some of the very best players and one the best of all time,” Barnes said. “So he’s excited and we’re excited for him.”

As evidenced by his Tennessee-themed sports coat at the NBA Draft, though, Knecht won’t forget his time at Tennessee anytime soon. Neither will the fans, Knecht’s teammates, and certainly Rick Barnes.

“If he’s told me once, he’s told me a thousand thousand times, he said, I wish I could go back and do it all over and be at Tennessee four years. But the mark he made in a year is pretty remarkable,” Barnes said.

Dalton Knecht now heads to the Los Angeles Lakers to begin his NBA career with the Tennessee fanbase behind him. And fortunately for those fans, the Lakers have a lot of games on national television to watch.

“He grew up as a kid talking about it,” Barnes said. “And like I said, the dream came true for him.”

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