Transcript: Rick Barnes and Zakai Zeigler Preview Villanova, Tournament in CT

Rick Barnes Transcript

On his biggest takeaways from watching the ETSU film…

“I thought we showed improvement in the areas that we talked about with our team going in, in terms of really trying to do a better job of guarding the basketball. Blocking was out a big thing. Transition defense. And, again, saying that we still have to get better. There’s no question about that. We still have to improve our ball-screen defense. But overall, the effort, really good efforts by Santi (Vescovi) and VJ (Bailey) were really, in terms of what we ask them to do defensively with individual matchups, did a really nice job. But overall, just what we had stressed going into it, we wanted to see improvement, we saw it, pretty much. But again, with that said, we have a long way to go.”
 
On if Olivier Nkamhoua’s production can be consistent throughout the season…
“You know what, I’d like to think so. He’s certainly put his work in. He continues to do that. I’ve said it before, as the season goes on, people start game-planning, doing different things. He’ll see some different defenses come at him. He’ll have to adjust to that as it goes on. But I would tell you the same thing I told him after the game, I don’t want him to get complacent. I want to see him continue to do what he’s done up to this point to get better. And realize it’s not going to be the same game every night when he goes out.”

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

On having 26 steals through two games and if that can be a strength…
“We talk a lot about deflections. We talk about trying to get out in the open court. We want to do that. We want to be active. Whatever defense we might be in, if we’re in a gap, we want to be active in those gaps. We always work hard at denying the first pass and coming up with some deflections, some steals that way. We’ll see. Prior to the game Sunday, we were overanxious, giving up position and really setting ourselves up where we really couldn’t defend the court. Most important thing is if we’ll just get in the right position and get the kind of ball pressure we want, we think we can come up with some more steals.”
 
On Villanova…
“Started watching tape on them. Certainly I have the utmost respect for Jay Wright. I think he’s a terrific basketball coach and has been for a long time. He’s certainly a wonderful person. When I look at his teams, I always appreciate watching guys grow within a program, and I go back to when we played them a couple years ago down in the Bahamas. Some guys on that team were role players then, and to see what they’ve developed into is just the ultimate compliment for Jay and his staff in terms of their player development. His guys are going to be competitive, they’re going to play hard, and that’s a chip off the block, because Jay’s a very competitive person and has done a great job building a great program.”
 
On Villanova not having a lot of one-and-done players and developing players…
“I think it shows his confidence in his beliefs in terms of what he does and what he’s looking for. I know Jay is not going to sacrifice his beliefs and thoughts for recruiting someone he doesn’t think is going to fit into his program. And, again, they work hard, there’s no doubt. You can’t play as hard as they do if you don’t work hard, and I know enough about how they go about things that they’re big believers in player development. I’m not surprise that he’s real picky in how he recruits.”
 
On how different the program has been in recent years since facing Villanova in the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis…
“In some ways, it’s a different team, different time. But the same kind of tournament. That was a great tournament. This is a great field we have going up at the Mohegan Sun. For some guys, they were young. You go back, I think that group of guys were sophomores and had a very emotional win the day before against Purdue. And had a big lead against Villanova and they came out and just steam-rolled us in the second half. But our guys did fight back. What that tournament did for that group of guys, it taught them what it takes to truly play at the highest level, in terms of the kind of effort that goes into it on every possession. It’s not going to be perfect, but you have to compete. But maybe, again, we have some guys here that have been in some games like that. But the majority of this team hasn’t. So we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves this weekend.”
 
On where the rotation is…
“I still think it’s a work in progress with how we do it. We talk about it. It is going to get down to our rotation will be based on reliability, what we can expect every time we put someone in. Can they be consistent with it? Also I like to think that we are going to continue with our player development. We have guys that we know we have to continue to develop over the course of the year that can help us get where we really want to go. Again, there’s not one guy in our program that can’t look at the tape and say I have to get better in this area or that area, whatever it may be. Right now, it will really be game by game and how that game is playing in terms of minutes and how they end up shaping out. I could see it changing really from game to game.”
 
On Jahmai Mashack
“Defensively, he is a guy that we know is going to be relentless in terms of his effort. Offensively, he does a terrific job of getting to the glass almost every time. Defensively, he is a guy that we think can lock in and be that type of player. He is like most freshmen. You come in and think it will kind of sort of be the same. You realize it is a little more difficult than you thought going in. He has such a wonderful attitude and he is going to continue to work and really try to get better with what he does. If he does that, he is a guy that we think can become a reliable player for us off the bench this year.”
 
On if he gets excited for big games to see if players are ready…
“Well, I think players and coaches, we all like big games. I have always said in non-league, the only way you can win big games is you have to play them. I think I still get excited about games. I’m excited about practice today because we want to put our guys in situations, different situations where they are going to be in this weekend. I think we all are looking forward to it. I know Villanova plays tonight. I don’t know about Purdue or North Carolina. I’m sure they play once this week. This is a big day for us in terms of we need it to be a lot like a game in terms of our practice intensity and effort. I don’t think there is any question that our guys will look forward to the weekend.”
 
On what Tennessee saw in Zakai Zeigler
“I think a lot has to do with the fact that we have success with guys his size through the years. We have had some small guards that are really competitive and I think when you see him, what stood out about him was he shoots the ball and is fearless. He’s not afraid. He’s going to compete. I kid him about teams are going to do this or do that, but it doesn’t faze him. He is learning the difference between being a guy who has probably always been asked to score a lot to become more of a point guard first guy. He can really shoot the ball. But his biggest strength really and truly is he is one of the most competitive guys that we have had. He is going to fight you. He is going to go at it. I think he realizes where he is and with his size that he has to be like that. He embraces it. He’s in tremendous shape conditioning-wise, both mentally and physically. He bounces back quick. I think he is a player that really stays in the moment. He wants to play where he doesn’t make mistakes, but he is a player that when he makes mistakes, he can let it go real quick and move onto the next play.”
 
On the visibility gained from playing in big games…
“There is no question you want to be in this type of field with teams that have had great success over the years, for many, many years. Every time I think about us playing Purdue—we have had some epic games. Certainly, North Carolina through the years too. I go back to the game with Villanova in the Bahamas. That was as intense of a game and you think about it, that year we were picked 13th and won the league. They go on to win the national championship. That time of year, that was a high-level, hard-fought game. We showed a frame to the guys the other day about the rebounding. I promise you there were eight people in there. Grant Williams was in the middle of it and you couldn’t even see him. It was that kind of intensity and effort. That was a great thing for our team at that time. They did realize what it takes and how every possession matters. We try to schedule it because we believe that we should be one of those schools that when people think of high-level basketball programs, that Tennessee is always in that mix.”

Zakai Zeigler Quotables

On what he knows about Villanova…
“I just know that they have a pretty good background, they’re knowing for winning and developing players. I have a friend that’s committed there. I don’t know too much, just know they’re a really good program.”

On the biggest difference between high school and college basketball…
“The speed and the strength and just understanding that every play is a big play and each possession matters. So just really understanding the strength and speed.”

On being a role player as opposed to being the go-to player…
“That is a difference, but I only really care about winning, so it doesn’t affect me. I’d rather win than score 40 and have a loss.

On what this weekend means for him going back to the northeast…
“It’s really big for me. It’s really big for me, but more importantly it’s big for our team. We can show the whole country who we are and what we’re about—that we’re a national championship caliber team.”

On playing the game fearlessly…
“I wouldn’t say it’s too much about my size, it’s just me wanting to win. If you’re nervous, you’re going to play nervous and the whole game will change, but if you play fearlessly no matter who is in front of you, you’ll play how you really play.”

On the differences between living in New York City versus Knoxville…
“It’s much different, but I’m loving it. In New York City, there’s a lot of distractions, but here I’m more focused and I’m loving it.”

-UT Athletics

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