Rick Barnes Media Availability Transcript Entering SEC Play

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Monday via Zoom to discuss the beginning of SEC play.

On going on the road for the first time this season to open conference play:
“It’s something I don’t think is ideal, which is why it was hard when we lost the game at Notre Dame and those neutral site games that would be different. This is not the way it usually is, it’s an unusual year as we all know. I’m sure it’s happened to some other teams, I don’t know because I haven’t looked around at everybody’s schedule nationally. It’s not the ideal thing we would have liked to had with the way our preseason went, but with that said, it is here and we have to be ready to go play against a very good Missouri basketball team.”

On changes to the traveling process this year for road games:
“We’ve talked about a lot of different things — a lot. In terms of did we want to turn it into traveling the day of the game or so many other scenarios with it, but we’re going to stick with what we have. Mary Carter (Eggert), Chad (Newman) and Garrett (Medenwald) have talked to people at hotels in terms of how we would like for things to be set up when we come in and eat our meals, our meeting rooms and all those type of things. Restriction wise, we’ve never really put a lot of restrictions on our guys, we think they know exactly what they’re supposed to do, they know what our standard is and they know what we expect in terms of how they conduct themselves. We have full confidence in them doing what we expect them to do, because one, when we get in, we’re pretty much out within 24 hours and it’s very much organized. They know what’s expected of their preparation, whether we’re playing here or on the road.”

On his evaluation of Missouri:
“They’re really good defensively, they’re a heavy gap team that does a great job of swarming in and wanting to break the ball loose and get out in transition. They’re playing at a much faster pace than they have probably since we’ve gone up against them with Cuonzo being there with them. So they’re different, but I think they’re a very well-coached team on both sides, I think they both know exactly how they want to play and who they want to play through. They know who they are, and they play to that.”

On the balance of inside and outside scoring so far this season:
“We really haven’t changed our attack from a year ago at the end of the year. We’ve always tried to be an inside-out team, and that’s not just throwing the ball in, it’s dribbling the ball in and all kinds of way to try to get it there. We do like those inside-out threes when they’re rhythm, step-in shots. We think we have guys that can make those shots. We also think we have guys that can drive the ball and create some offense. But most of our sets here are inside-out and that’s what we do and will continue to do.”

On where he feels like this team is heading into conference play compared with where he wants them to be:
“Well it’s not a normal year, so no one has been able to play their full allotment of games. Even with that said, no one this year has been allowed to play the number of non-league games that we’ve played in the past, so I’m not sure anybody could think that they’re where they want to be or where they should be, just because we haven’t played as many games and don’t have as much variety of teams that you’ve played against or you can seen in a normal non-league schedule. Whether we are or aren’t, we better be ready because we’re getting ready to play games that anybody on our schedule any given night could beat us, and we know that. So we better understand the importance of getting better right now. I think I would tell you that all the way up until the last game of the year because I think you can get better every time you go out and I hope we have the mindset that we’re not anywhere near what we can be. The question is, can we become who we want to be? It’ll be a commitment by everyone every day trying to improve.”

On what things he would like to see the team improve on entering SEC play:
“The key would be the C-word. Consistency. That’s with everyone. I don’t think we’ve had one guy that’s been absolutely consistent. I would say our most consistent player has been Josiah (Jordan James). Overall, him and Santi(ago Vescovi) are two guys who have been fairly consistent, but the other guys haven’t been as consistent as I know they have to be and what I think they will become. We also need to continue to take care of the ball at a high rate percentage wise and rebound the ball. If we do that—and try to keep playing good, solid defense.”

On if experienced teams will benefit early on in league play:
“It’s definitely a factor. When you think about it, as I’ve said before that when you stop and start, you would believe that the older guys can come back in a day or so. You feel like they should have it under control, but with the younger guys, like we’ve had this year with the shortened offseason and the stops in the normal academic year, those guys have taken much longer to get back to it. Their retention has not been what you want it to be. Their physical conditioning has not been what it ought to be when we’ve had to take those stops. So, there’s no question that the teams that are older and more experienced will not be hurt nearly as much as a younger group would be, because of the stoppages. The older guys know what you want and it doesn’t take as long to get back into it. The younger guys still don’t know what you want and it takes them a whole lot longer to get back into it.”

On if they’ve had discussions walking through how the road trip will go:
“With the exception of a couple of guys, these guys have been on the road. They know that we have a routine and our routine doesn’t change, whether we’re here or on the road. Our preparation doesn’t change. We prepare for Missouri in the same way we would prepare for Appalachian State, Tennessee Tech or Saint Joe’s. So, our guys know exactly what we expect. They know exactly how we go about our meetings. The difference is that we’re going to bus to an airport, get on a plane, fly there, get off, go to a hotel and do what we normally do. Whether we’re here or there, we try to keep a very regimented type of schedule.”

On how he would rate the freshmen and their ability to take a scout and execute it in the game:
“I would say overall they’ve been good, but I will also say that most of the breakdowns we’ve experienced this year have come from the younger guys. They understand that it’s a different game. They’re learning that the college game is different from what they’ve played in the past. They’re understanding how quickly you can get burnt if you don’t execute the game plan. They’re learning that a lot of guys don’t need much space and simply guarding a 3-point shooter. Instead of being outside the line, having a foot being inside the line. One foot makes all the difference in the world and not having your hands up ready to play. I think they’ve had to learn that, but with that being said it’s a constant reminder for our older players. Some days they have it and some days they don’t. I got to watch the end of the Kansas City Chiefs game yesterday and Patrick Mahomes said he didn’t play well. You would think the pros would play well every day, but they don’t. Sometimes you don’t have it as much as you want to have it. One thing that’s for certain is these guys want to do the right things, there’s no doubt about it. But, there’s a lot going on. The speed of the game. Coaches make adjustments. Players make adjustments and make reads. It’s a constant battle to stay alert, stay ready and communicate. The biggest thing would probably be communication especially in our ball screen coverage where we’re talking early and loud so guys can get to where they need to go.”

On what he wants to see from the players after coming back from break:
“They are excited about playing and they want to play basketball right now. We said it before the season started with practice, even though we didn’t practice as much as we normally would in terms of time, there is no doubt right now they are ready to get in the groove of playing and they know now if things go the way we hope they go, we will be playing two games a week and we will be in a routine. But there’s no doubt these guys are looking forward to playing and more importantly, they still understand that we have room for improvement.”

On what Josiah-Jordan James has done so far this season that he really likes and what he has done to improve from last year in his opinion:
“He has started to develop the game he needs and feels comfortable with. He’s improved more as a shooter and his decisions have been more consistent. He’s rebounding on both ends, and even his voice—he probably has a good of voice as there is on the team, because again you can have a voice when you have earned the respect of your teammates and with the work that he puts in every day, it is obvious his teammates respect him. But, he has been consistent in being able to take care of the scouting report and rebound the ball as well as do all of the things we ask him to do.”

On if he got to watch any of his former players on Christmas day during break, especially Kevin Durant after missing all of last year:
“I didn’t get to watch much on Christmas Day really at all, but I’m not surprised with Kevin coming back like that because he has a tremendous love and passion for the game. The last time I spoke to him, I asked him how he felt when they were still in the bubble, and he said ‘I am ready to go’ and we talked about how hard he had been working at it, which he doesn’t have to talk about that because I know how hard he works at it, but anything he does I am not surprised because of his tremendous respect for the game, and his respect for his ability and willingness to maximize what the good lord has given him.”

On how much he thinks Missouri having Tillman in their lineup has helped them so far this season:
“I think it helps a lot and If I’m not mistaken last year when we went up there it was the first game he missed and I don’t believe he missed one prior to that. So, they were learning obviously to play without him, but he’s a talent and they have done a nice job getting him to understand he’s gotten better and that’s a compliment to himself and his coaches.”

-UT Athletics

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