Transcript: Rick Barnes talks week off, previews Florida

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee basketball head coach Rick Barnes met with the media on Tuesday afternoon via Zoom to discuss the Vols regular season finale against Florida.

On if he is happy to have the week off, and if he thinks it is something that will benefit them:
“I think it’s probably good for us right now. We still have some guys that need to get healed up a little bit. They’ve been in here the last couple days trying to work with Chad and G on those type of things. So, from that standpoint it’s been good for us.”

On at what point does he say Fulky is what he is at this stage of the season:
“Well, I still believe in John Fulkerson, I do. I know that he’s still trying to put the work in to do what he needs to do, and he’s still a big part of this. I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime in this business. I’ve seen guys struggle, then all at once the light clicks back on. I’ve seen guys rolling, and then the light goes off. I just don’t think you can quit on people that put everything they’ve had into the program. I just believe in him, and that doesn’t mean we won’t have some adjustments that we have to make here or there, but you do that every game, and that goes on in every single game. I just know that Fulky is trying to do what he can to get it going, and I believe that he can do it. So, that’s how I feel about it.”

On how much he has looked at the game tape from the previous game against Florida, and how much of the issues in that game does he still see in his team now:
“Well, I go back—in that game we were very careless with the ball. We turned the ball over a lot, and we did have some shots that we practiced that we didn’t make. We lost the ball in a lot of different ways that you can’t. We actually cut the score down, then all at once we missed a layup and turned it over twice in the backcourt. The momentum goes from where we were getting some momentum back the other way, but I would still go back to turnovers. I think when we do a decent job of taking care of the ball, and as long as we shoot shots we practice and shots that will come in the flow of the offense. Have there been nights where we missed open shots? We have. That’s part of the game, but the biggest thing is we have to be better defensively and take care of the ball better.”

On how beneficial he thinks the week off will help them defensively, and getting a week for the team to get their legs back under them:
“Well, I think we have to get back in to locking in our coverage. I think the communication has to get better, and you don’t want to be talking about communication this time of year, but the fact of the matter is, we are. We’ve just got to get settled in, and understand that all five guys know exactly what we’re doing every time out, and to have the mental discipline to go out and execute whatever defense we might be in.”

On how healthy Josiah Jordan-James is:
“He’s not. We’re hoping this week is a good week for him. Josiah’s the kind of player that needs the reps and the work. He hasn’t had a good week of practice in about two weeks. I think this week will be key for him. I think his wrist is starting to feel better but he would tell you the same thing as me, he needs reps. He needs to get out and get it going again. He’s a guy that will tell you that he needs to be in the gym where he can be productive. He wasn’t able to do that for almost two weeks.”

On how many adjustments a team can make in a week:
“You’ve just got to do what you’re doing and do it better. You’re always tweaking some things here and there, but the bottom line is whatever your base package is, it’s been good to us in so many different ways, but we’ve just got to do it better. We’ve got to pass it better. We’ve got to cut harder, cut better, be ready to screen better. It’s all of the fundamentals that go into it. Could we run a whole new offense and do all of that? That’s not the answer to where we are right now. It’s just a matter of executing and doing the things that we know we’re capable of doing because we’ve done it. We’ve just got to do it. We need to get seven or eight guys playing at a very high level.”

On the possibility of mixing Keon Johnson into the post play:
“We’ve played that lineup before. We’ve played him at the four sometimes this year. To say we’re going to put him there exclusively, I don’t think we would do that. When he’s out there, we post our guards. We have a package where we’re trying to get them in the post as much as we can. All we’re trying to do with our guys is to put them in the best area where we feel that they’re most effective and where they feel most comfortable. We’ve had various lineups. We’ve had it before where he’s had to go down there, play and do that. Can he do it? He can. Do I think we’re going to do it for the entire game? We won’t.”

On how he and the players feel about Senior day:
“Well, it will be much different. I do know our fans appreciate what John and Yves have given us over their time here. I know if it were a typical year when we would have people in here, I think they’d really be able to show that appreciation. Those guys have worked hard. Believe me, they have tried to give everything they have for the program and have continued to do that. EJ, he won’t go through it. That’s his decision. We left it up to all of them and how they want to handle it. I think it’s the right thing certainly for Fulky and Yves. They all have decisions at the end of the year that they have to make. At that point in time, they will make it. One thing I wish is that Grant Williams could’ve had a Senior night. Guys that have been through it and meant a lot to the program, sometimes it doesn’t happen for them. When I thought about these guys the other day, my thought was how do you recognize guys that come in and give you everything they have, but they have a decision to make and they choose to leave early. I do know our fans appreciate what Yves and John have done, they’ve been a part of good stuff here and they’ve been thrust into some tough situations too. Character wise, I don’t think you could have asked for two better people to be honored for the way those guys deserved to be honored.”

On which guys are stepping up to show leadership on the team:
“I think anytime you’re up and down, you look around the country and it happens everywhere. We all know this is a different year. Yeah, it’s tough. Being inconsistent is really, really tough. This is a year where we haven’t had a chance for the team to bond and connect the way we used to be able to. When that happens, I’ve always said the best led teams, are the player led teams. Josiah has certainly had a voice, even Fulky. They aren’t the most vocal guys, that’s not their personality. One thing you don’t want as a coach, you don’t want guys to try and be something that they are not. There are different styles of leadership. I was impressed with Keon the other night. For the first time, he got vocal. To me, that’s great. It doesn’t matter what year you are. This time of year, is where the real competitors come out and go. That’s why I still think we have a group of guys that want to win.”

On how he balances coaching guys hard and giving them confidence:
“We’re around them every day, we know them. We know them in ways that nobody else does. You try a little bit of everything. Sometimes you try to encourage them, sometimes when they need to be jolted. I’ve always believed the most important thing is to be honest and let them know it’s a battle for everybody, they’re not the only ones to go through it. Everybody struggles. I’ve seen it happen in all different sports. When you’re in sports long enough, you realize how quickly it can turn, either good or bad. The fact is, it just goes back you’ve got to put your work in every day and have to be diligent in understanding the fundamentals. It really comes down to understanding your role. In terms of coaches helping guys get through that, I think they can. I think more than anything, guys that I’ve had that have struggled, they are the ones who worked their way out of it. We have a great coaching staff. We’ve got our hands on these guys all the time to try to get them going. When you’re with these guys every single day, you can tell when they feel they have the confidence and when they don’t. If you feel like they’re doing everything they can do, yeah you encourage them. But if you feel like they aren’t doing everything they can and try to be positive with them, it’s not going to work. We all know what makes it work in sport. The way you get out of slumps, you work your way out of them, both mentally and physically.”

On his conversations with Fulkerson about going through senior day/next season and where he is in his decision making process:
“Again, I said earlier, that’s stuff that we talked about later on. I mean, they have options. Fulky’s got options. I mean, he could come back here, he could transfer to another school, he could choose to go the professional route. But I don’t think he’s thinking about that right now. I think John Fulkerson is so locked in because, like all of us, he wants to help us win. That’s all he cares about. Again, people have called me saying, ‘Well he hasn’t had the kind of year we thought he might have.’ Well, he knows that too. But he’s never made it about himself. If you sat down and talked to him and have a deep conversation with him, I don’t care if it would be me or anybody else, he’s going to say ‘Coach, all I want to do is win and whatever I can do to help this team win, that’s what I want to do.’ And that’s where I think his thought process is, that’s where I’d like to think everybody’s thought process is.”

On how tough this has been on Fulkerson:
“What I’d ask you is, how tough do you think it’s been on him? Because you guys know him. You know how much he cares. You know how much he loves this university. You know how much he loves his teammates. You know that it’s never, ever been about him ever. And, when you have high expectations and don’t live up to them as an individual or as a team, there’s disappointments. But, it’s not over until it’s over. And that’s why—again some people act like we’re going to write him out of the script. He is not going to be written out of the script, he’s not. Because he’s been too loyal, he’s worked too hard, and don’t think people aren’t watching when we handle this whole deal with a senior. I’ve been through it with seniors. I’ve been through it with really good players who’ve struggled. But one thing you don’t do—you always talk about never quitting, never giving up and I don’t think you can ever quit or ever give up on a player, ever. Especially when you have one that has been as loyal as John has been and has been as good a teammate as you could ever be around. But, you asked the question and deep down inside, you know it bothers him. He has to deal with it, he has to deal with you guys asking it, he has to deal with everybody talking about it. But I can tell you this: I don’t know if anybody’s handled it any better, because he’s had a tough time. But it’s not because of his want to or his willingness. You know, he’s dealt with some injury. His hand was hurt, really hurt, but he kept playing. He dealt with that early in the year. He got sick, he dealt with that. And so, he’s dealt with a lot. It hasn’t been a smooth year from a physical standpoint for John. But I can tell you, we’re not ever going to quit on him because he’s never going to quit on us.”

On what Florida is doing well at the moment after winning three straight games:
“They’re a different team than we played down there because the big fella is back. But they’re still the team—you know Mike does a terrific job. He’s going to run his sets, they’re going to end up with a lot of ball screens. That’s where they end up with the different things they run. Playing some zone, they’re going to show some pressure, they’re going to fall back and show a little 3-2 zone at times. You know, I go back and I’ve got a lot of respect for Mike and the way he runs his program. You go back and you watch the game, I mean, Jaden didn’t play in our game there. And they were down two good players and the other guys came in and did a great job. But, you can still take some things from it. And the biggest thing—I think I started out talking about it, the biggest thing—is we need to take care of the ball. We’ve got to take care of the ball and we’ve got to make some shots, there’s no doubt about that. But still when you score 49 points, I’m not sure what else you can say other than you’re not going to win a lot of games scoring 49 points.”

On how the coaching staff is still trying to create a chip on this team’s shoulder:
“You know, I don’t know about creating a chip on the guy’s shoulders. My deal is, I want to get guys playing at the highest level they can be playing. Individually, there are different ploys that you can try to get into motivating, and sometimes the coach and people talk to you guys, and you guys ask these types of questions—I am from the old school where you are going to get out of it what you put into it, and if we can get ourselves back to practicing at the level that I know we are capable of, we can get back to competing at the level that I know we can. The question is, why do we have those, because again we have guys that work. There are not many days here that our guys do not put the time in and effort in that we want, and it still gets back to the consistency, and it gets back to what can we count on every single night, and that is what we haven’t figured out. Think about it, we felt like we were rolling after the Kentucky game, and then Jaden goes down. We went to Florida, and I think we were 10-1 at the point in time. That was when we were starting to play Keon and Jaden all at once, Jaden is out of the game, and he goes through a period where he doesn’t play. We haven’t been able to create it and even though we have some older guys, we still are playing some younger guys that are understanding some things for the first time and the difficulty of how it is going to be every night. Going through every game is going to be different, but that is why I am excited about these guys, and we have told them that. Everything we want is still in front of us except for a regular-season championship, and we have a chance like anybody else if we can get it going the way that we want to and get it back almost like it is a new start for us. I look around college basketball and I see teams that are rolling and then they lose three in a row. That isn’t making excuses, that is just the kind of year that a lot of teams have had. We had it, and to be where they are right now with some of the things that we have dealt with—some that you guys know about and some that you don’t, and in some ways—I am proud of these guys because we have two young guys that have had to learn on the job with a lot less preseason and have two seniors with a guy that I know cares dearly has had a really tough year. But yet, I can only tell you that they are pulling for each other. I know that they know we believe in them. And the biggest thing maybe is that we have to get them believing in themselves again and if that is what it is, I don’t know. I just know there is a really fine line between winning and losing, and the way you do that is that you prepare yourself from a basketball fundamental standpoint to go out and give it your best effort do what your game plan is, and then you accept what the outcome is.

On this being the first time this season that Tennessee basketball has not appeared in the AP poll and who that affects the team:
“You know I think you guys would probably be surprised with how little college players sometimes watch college basketball. Are they aware of that? Yes, I think at some point and time, but the fact of the matter is, you think about it, we have been ranked all year up until last week which there are a lot of teams that would love to be able to say that. Now you ask me about rankings, where do I want to be ranked? I want to be ranked there at the end. That is the most important thing to me. I realize that rankings can get you good seeds and all that but still, I have coached teams that were playing well right now and didn’t end up so well, and teams that weren’t playing well and they ended up well. So, that is part of the whole season of your whole body of work. And I just like the fact that now I think about it; we have been ranked all year and now that we are not and it is a big story, I think that shows you how far our program has come. Do we expect to be one of the best teams in the country year-in and year-out? Absolutely. Do we have the same goals as everybody talks about the blue bloods? Absolutely. And there is no difference. I mean we have the same goals, and like those teams, we are still in a position where we can chase those goals.”

On Victor Bailey Jr.’s room for improvement on the defensive end:
“I think the biggest thing with VJ—because again, he’s committed, he wants to work at it, and he would be the first one to tell you that he knows he has a lot to learn about the game. What he has to do when he is not making shots is realize that he can affect the game in another way. He can’t let a missed shot or something on the offensive end put him in a state of mind where he is just standing around. Where he is not paying attention, where he is not taking care of detail. VJ Bailey shouldn’t get blown by, the way he has at times, and to me, that is when you have to have a short memory. Missing shots is a part of this game. Defensive lapses shouldn’t be a part of this game. There is no reason for that, and that is just a matter of being mentally locked in, and I will tell you that I think that is the biggest area that he has to improve on. He has improved a lot since he has been here, but that has got to be where he has to really get better when he is not making shots he has to affect the game in other ways.”

-UT Athletics

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