Rick Barnes Media Availability Vandy Preview Transcript

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes sat down with the media via Zoom to discuss this week’s games with Vanderbilt.

On the uniqueness of the schedule this week and if he’s ever had an experience playing the same team twice in a week:
“Only one time that I can tell you. I was at Providence, in the Big East we had a snow date on the last day of the regular season. The game got moved from Saturday to Monday and then we ended up playing Georgetown again that Sunday the year we won the Big East Championship. That’s the only time I can remember playing the same team multiple times in a week. We obviously played some other games in between, but I don’t think we’ve ever played back-to-back. If we have, I don’t remember it.”

On what the communication was like from SEC to play Vanderbilt on Tuesday:
“We had heard rumors. This time of year, we understand it. When cancellations start happening we’re going to have these kinds of situations. But, we had heard about it prior to the game. We heard that there was potential for it to happen. The SEC is on it, they put it out there as a possibility and then once we got through with media on Saturday and got back to the bus they had confirmed it.”

On if they’re testing three times a week and if he gets nervous awaiting the results:
“We do test three times a week. Do I get nervous about it? Probably not as much. For me, it’s what it is. What it’s going to be, it’s going to be. But, for like Mary-Carter and Chad and for everyone that’s on it every day, we get the text that whether it’s negative or positive, the bus driver is getting tested along with everyone. It’s something you can’t really worry about. You’re always concerned about it, because it ultimately falls on the safety of the people in your program that you feel responsible for, but we’re doing it three times a week and we’re still trying to do everything we can when we’re on the road. Teams I think are doing everything they can to accommodate us. But, if we walk in and things aren’t how we need them and us as coaches need to sit out in the hallway to get the social distancing—we have a great setup here at Thompson-Boling. We have four locker rooms we can give teams so they can really spread out. Everything we’re doing here—like when I get finished with you all, we’re in a big room spread out. Everything we do, we’re staying within the regulations with what needs to be going on. We’ll take two buses to Nashville tonight, then we’ll make sure tomorrow when we get over there, that we’re spaced out the way we need to, even if it means that us as coaches need to do something we don’t normally do, because we’re going to try to do everything we can to prevent what we can prevent.”

On what he looks at first when he picks up a stat sheet:
“The final score. It depends though. I’m big on assist/turnover ratio. I’m big on field goal percentage. But, probably the first thing I’m looking at is individual guys on our team and maybe individuals on the other team to see if we’ve done the things we talked about. I think it varies depending on where my mind is at that time. You have about a thousand thoughts going through your mind depending on how the game ended. Rebounds is a big thing for this team and is an area we need to improve. I also think stats early in the year can be a bit misleading, because until you really start playing over a long period of time and obviously early in the year, you’re playing against competition—even though this year we didn’t play against the teams we normally play against in our normal buy games where you would expect to do things that will show up statistically that are good for you and your team. But, as you get into conference play and start breaking down non-league and conference play, you really start to get a feel for where you really are as a rebounding team, or an assist/turnover team. So much of it also depends on players too. When a game ends, I can’t tell you how many thoughts are going through my mind. Sometimes, I don’t even pick it up until I’m about to talk to Bob and Bert. I’ll just look at some things to have some thoughts in my head, so I don’t put out the things I’m actually thinking.”

On Vanderbilt:
“I think Jerry Stackhouse has done a really good job. He’s overhauled the team in terms of what he had last year. They run a lot of different things and you would expect that. He played for one of the greatest coaches in college basketball. He grew up in a great sports town in Kinston, North Carolina. My college coach is actually from Kinston. I kid with Jerry all the time about my coach being the best player to come out of Kinston, because he’s still East Carolina’s all-time leading scorer and he’s held that record since 1954. But, I think playing at North Carolina has meant that Jerry has put a little bit of the Carolina break in their game. I think he’s mixed in some of their defensive schemes and those things. Jerry is terrific. He’s got a lot of different things that he does, which I think comes from his experience in the NBA as both a player and a coach. His players have gotten better. When you look at the improvement of Scotty Pippen Jr. you have to be impressed. He’s building—the word culture is thrown around pretty freely at times, but I think he’s building the culture in the way that he wants it. I think he’s great for the game too. Being on conference calls with him and talking with him, I think he’s a great person to be in the college game and I think he’s done a lot more as a coach which we’ll see in his program, which is something we should all envy with how he goes about his business.”

On if preparing for the same team for back-to-back games changes his preparation at all:
“No, it won’t. We’ll go about this game the way we do it and then we’ll turn around and do it again. The difference is, that Vandy is a team we play twice a year anyway, it’s just that it’ll be there. In between you won’t have other games to see how other teams may have approached them in ways that you didn’t, but otherwise it’s just a quicker turnaround. Obviously, they will be fresher on our players memories after the game, but we’ll proceed as we always do. Normally you have some games in between where you can see against them go up against some different things to make some adjustments to your plan, but in this case the adjustments from one game to the other will be made off of the first game.”

On if he’s reached out to any coaches in other conferences to see how they may be dealing with this situation:
“We haven’t. Like I said, the preparation will be the same for us, with us going about doing what we do. I watched our games from a year ago. I saw the adjustments we made from a year ago. I saw the adjustments that we made and the adjustments they made. There will be adjustments made obviously, but I think both teams will go about preparation in the same way, because it’s a Tuesday Saturday game. It’s not like it’s a Tuesday Wednesday situation. If its Tuesday Wednesday, that would be very much different. In that case you would approach it like a conference tournament or an NCAA tournament game where you probably wouldn’t do anything on the floor. This week, we’ll go about our regular week. Wednesday will be our day off like it would have been had we played South Carolina. It would be a day off, then we’ll have Thursday and Friday to prep for Vanderbilt, so we’ll stick with that schedule.”

On the team’s rotation:
“I don’t think we have a set thing. We played with a lineup the other day that we’ve never practiced with. They did a terrific job. We had four guards out there with Yves (Pons) for a couple of possessions. I know this: We’re going to need Olivier (Nkamhoua). We think Olivier’s got a great future. The fact that E.J. (Anosike) is with us for another year after this year. He’s got a great future. Uroš (Plavšic) is getting better and better. There are certain games where you just can’t get that deep into your bench, as much as you’d like to. The fact is, these guys will continue approach practice (the right way) and do the things. That’s what’s it’s going to be. I tell them this – If they want to stay in the rotation, and there’s not a set rotation – it’s going to be based on what they do in practice every day. That’s where they build confidence, not only for themselves, but for us. When games start out, we have an idea, sometimes of what we’re going to do for the first couple of subs. Depending on foul trouble, that can change. In my mind, we’ve got 10 guys, 11 guys that are ready to play. Hopefully, even a 12th or 13th wants to do enough that they make us think about what they do. That’s what happens with good teams. It’s those guys that you would consider your rotational players – they say, ‘I’m going to do more. I want more playing time.’ We’re open-minded enough that if they do it, they’re going to get an opportunity.”

On if E.J. Anosike will return to Tennessee next season:
“I don’t think there’s any question he will. I think it’s going to be good for him. I actually told him the day that they made that announcement, I went to him and told him that we had just got a call from the NCAA that he wasn’t eligible this year and he has to come back next year. He looked at me and said, that’s OK, but I’d like to play this year to. I told him and he had a big smile on his face. He is excited about it.”

On how much improvement Vanderbilt sophomore Scotty Pippen Jr. has shown from last season:
“He’s much, much, much improved. He’s responsible for about half of their points, in production offensively. I love the demeanor that he plays with. He is a guy that went in last year and had to learn on the job. He had to stay out there. They needed him on the court. Just like I told our young freshman a year ago, Josiah(-Jordan) James. He didn’t get a chance to sit on the bench when he wasn’t playing well. He had to stay out there when he knew he wasn’t playing up to the level he wanted to play to. People were probably getting down on him, but in some ways that’s what helps guys grow quicker than anything. The fact that they’ve got to fight through those tough days. Last year, we struggled. We lost 14 or 15 games a year ago. That’s a tough thing when you’re a freshman out there being a big part of it and things aren’t going well. You’ve got to stay out there and fight through it. I know it helped Josiah and I think it helped Scotty Pippen Jr.”

On what he saw from freshmen Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer after earning their first career starts (against Arkansas and Texas A&M, respectively):
“I think they both have done well. I go back to what you said about starting. I don’t know that it really matters. I don’t think it does because I mentioned we had a lineup out there with both of them on the floor with Santi (Santiago Vescovi), V.J. (Victor Bailey Jr.) and Yves. Those guys, they’re very competitive – both of them. They want to be good. It’s going to be fun watching the get better over the next couple of weeks. They’re getting better now. They’re learning how to play with good players. They’re learning how to play with a post player, really for the first time. They’re starting to understand what goes into being a good basketball player, what goes into being a good team. I think they also realize that it’s probably harder than they thought it would be. There’s no reason for them to think differently, because they’ve had great success everywhere they’ve been. The biggest thing it they’re willingness to continue to want to be coached. They’re getting themselves in better shape, as I think we are as a team, which is important. They’ve been hurt by this late start, going back all the way to the summertime. They’ve also bene hurt by the stops and starts. The key now is that we can stay consistent, they can stay healthy and keep moving forward.”

On if senior E.J. Anosike needs to focus on doing something more consistently in order to increase his playing time:
“No, it really doesn’t have anything to do with it. It goes back to personnel and sometimes the game is going on and they have a guard lineup out there. The one thing you don’t want to do and we don’t want to do as a coaching staff is put guys on guys and make it very difficult for them to switch. We do quite a bit of switching at times. Most of what dictates who plays is matchups, but if guys aren’t doing the things we expect them to do, then certainly they won’t play. He hasn’t done that. It’s just that we were in a game the other day where we felt we needed to open the court up We needed to get out, get the ball moving and drive the ball. Our opponent will dictate sometimes who plays. I think one of the really neat things about this team is that we do have the versatility to play a number of different ways. I was impressed the other day. We had a group of guys that came out of a timeout and Coach (Kim) English wanted to try something that he had scouted on the team that we had not practiced. He drew it up, we came out and executed it perfectly. I told the team yesterday watching that, that’s a big step for us. We haven’t always done the things that we’ve wanted to do coming out of a timeout – just a little tweak here or a tweak there. Most of the time it’s the younger players, or the newer guys in a program. The older guys have been around long enough and they’ve seen those tweaks. It’s going to get back to opponents, what they have and what we feel we need to do at that point in time in the game.”

On if sophomore Santiago Vescovi’s confidence during Saturday win over Texas A&M is something that can ‘rub off’ on other teammates:
“I think it did. I think you saw him shooting the ball the way he does and doing some other things. I said it before, he’s a very deceptive defensive guy. He’s not going to be the guy out there that’s jumping round, but he understands angles. He’s a sophomore. Because he played so much a year ago, we take for granted that he’s an older guy. I think he’s 19. He’s young and he’s gotten himself in the best shape. The players do have a great respect for him because he works very hard. I said before the last game, I think the reason he had struggled is me not making it consistent for him in practice. He wants to take every rep and he doesn’t need to do that. He doesn’t, because when he’s in, he’s going to go all out. I do think that when he gets to shooting the ball like that, it does rub off on some guys and it certainly spreads things out for everybody else to give them room to operate.”

On why two of their best games have been on the road with Missouri and Texas A&M:
“First of all, Arkansas is a terrific team and we didn’t shoot the ball well against them and we certainly didn’t shoot the ball well against Alabama. You have two teams that came in here that are terrific offensive teams. Looking back, I can go back and look at the Alabama game – Keon said it – he wasn’t as sharp as he needed to be. We had won some games where they thought it would be easy, but it’s never easy. With the young guys, they have to get stronger a little bit to do that and learn that. The fact is, we’ve grown on the road and we’ve been focused. I don’t want to take anything away from Alabama and their win here, but we weren’t very good and we didn’t deserve to win the game and we got exactly what we deserved. We fought hard against Arkansas, and when you think about it, coming off a game with the way we felt we got beat, we didn’t deserve to win because we weren’t who we were supposed to be – we broke down too many ways – you go into the next game with a little bit of doubt, and you’re playing a really good team that lost one game and arguably a team in the conference that people thought was one of the better teams and you expect it to be a dog fight and it was. We also had a lead that game, and we didn’t put it away like we should have – give them credit – we made too many mistakes on the defensive end. With that said, we go on the road feeling good about beating Arkansas, but my message to them was that last time we started feeling good, we got beat. We better lock in and think about what we’re doing every game. I’ll go back to last year – even though we got some guys from a year ago, that doesn’t mean anything, unless we learn from the mistakes we made a year ago and I felt like we did that because last year when A&M came in here – they beat us and annihilated us on the boards. Even though they beat us on the boards the other day, it wasn’t anything like what happened to us a year ago. I can tell you that watching that tape going in was hard to watch, but I thought our guys did what we talked about over our scouting report.”

On if he thinks more SEC teams should be ranked, or if there are better SEC teams out there than people realize:
“I don’t know what you can put into rankings right now, because of the way we’ve played the schedule. If we had a full regular season by now, we would’ve already played Gonzaga, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin. I don’t know if we have got a full feel for what it is really like right now, but the fact is this league is good. Conference games are difficult because coaches know each other, we play each other, and we go back and look there’s a total makeover with teams. Once we get into conference play and get into a round robin, it’s difficult. We have our common opponents we play every year, but our league is really good, and you also look around and see teams doing well. I really feel for South Carolina and what they’ve had to go through. I know what we felt like when we had to sit and watch teams play at the beginning of the year and in some ways that would be better than getting to play a few games and then get shut down, that’s tough. I feel for Missouri as they are going through it at this point in time, but I’m not sure who else because I haven’t read that much. I do know that South Carolina’s going through it, and I hate it for Frank and Cuonzo as well as their teams, because we’ve said it many times that these guys are wanting to play basketball, but we know that we have to protect them the best way that we can.”

On what Corey Walker has to do in practice to earn some minutes and how difficult it is for him, considering he’s a true freshman during a COVID season and wasn’t able to start out the season because of injury:
“It’s extremely hard to catch up – when you missed what he’s missed, it’s really hard and difficult. He will have to continue to do what he’s doing and get himself in the kind of shape he needs to be in. He will need to get the speed and aggressiveness of what we play with, but it’s difficult. It’s hard to play more than 10 guys in games in what would be quality minutes. He’s like anyone else, and if he proves he’s ready to do it and we think he can help us, it’ll happen.”

On how confident he is that there will be an SEC tournament, or if the thinks they will use that week to make up games:
“I don’t know if I can say I am confident about anything beyond today. The commissioner and his staff will do an unbelievable job of doing what they need to at that point in time, but I just don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know what it’ll look like with the games we’ll have to make up, but we’ll be able to do whatever. Some people say why do that – when you qualify for the NCAA tournament – why go there and jeopardize playing and doing that. It’ll be different, and obviously teams aren’t going to there early. We tried to use the SEC tournament when we knew that it would be a postseason tournament like you would do where you got to be there a couple day early, which I think will change with the NCAA too, because of what we are doing now, and we could do it at any time. So, I don’t know if that will come up, and if you know you qualify for the tournament, why jeopardize it. It goes back to players want to play, and they want to play as many games as they can play. If you think about It right now, we’ve played 10 games, so we have 15 games left. At this point in time we would have normally played closer to 15 games, but my point is we want to play. Would they rather take a week off and practice – I can tell you that answer quick, No. They would tell you that they would much rather be in Nashville playing the tournament and it does mean something to go and try to win a SEC conference tournament championship. As we move forward, I don’t know the answer, but we’ve all be naïve to think that we we’re going through now, we didn’t think would happen. We knew that we would have some stoppage along the way, and I thought our football season worked through it the best way they could, and I think we will be in the same situation. Just like they played the SEC championship game, I like to think any at all possibility we will play a conference tournament.”

On how he thinks the home court advantage has changed this year, as well as going on the road:
“They are more similar than not now obviously. When you talk about Thompson-Boling, we have one of the best. I thought our crowd was great during the home games, and at the Arkansas game we probably had one the biggest crowds that we’ve had, and I don’t know what we had for the Alabama game, but we heard them I can tell you that. It’s more similar now than you would expect. I don’t know what it’ll be like with Vanderbilt. I felt like the noise the other day stayed on a bit longer at Missouri. It is very similar, and the crowd as you all know will pipe in noise level, so everyone can do it different. When we go, we are trying our best, and close contact is we are most concerned about, and I do think the arenas are more similar now. We just have to get ready to play, and we have to communicate better, I can tell you that.”

-UT Athletics

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