Photo via Tennessee Athletics.
Five-star wing Julian Phillips has spent much of the last month in a freshman slump as the level of competition increases on the Vols’ schedule.
Phillips scored in double figures in seven of Tennessee’s first 10 games before failing to reach the mark in the Vols next four games. That included a six-point performance against Maryland, a two-point performance against Arizona and a four-point performance against Ole Miss.
But after Phillips broke out of his slump with an 11 point, seven rebound performance on five-of-six shooting against Mississippi State, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes see strong performances in Phillips’ immediate future.
“I can see now he’s coming out of it,” Barnes said of Phillips’ slump. “I can tell by watching him in practice, watching what he does and I can see him getting himself on a roll here.”
While’s Phillips’ poor stretch has been marked by his scoring struggles, it’s Phillips’ defensive commitment that makes Barnes believe a stretch of good play is coming soon.
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“Defensively he’s much more inclined,” Barnes said. “If you’re not real tough minded with your cardio it can break you down but I see him improving there a lot. It’s not that players don’t want to do it, it’s just that it’s all new for them. So much is new for him right now but he has a wonderful attitude and he just keeps working and I know the best part is he really wants to be better.”
Barnes frequently preaches to players about getting lost on the defensive end and letting offense come naturally. While the Vols want Phillips’ offense, they’re not reliant on him scoring or creating offense for teammates.
For the Blythewood, South Carolina native, the rough patch taught him the importance of what Barnes is preaching and how every game is different at the collegiate level.
“Just that you can’t really force it to happen,” Phillips said. “You just have to play and let the game come to you. I think now, playing, you can’t force. You just have to let it come and settle in like that.”
Up next for Tennessee is a road trip back home for Phillips. The Vols play at South Carolina Saturday afternoon. Columbia is just 18 miles away from Phillips’ hometown Blythewood and Phillips expects to have an abundance of friends and family in attendance Saturday.
“It is really exciting,” Phillips said. “I am going to have a lot of family at the game that haven’t gotten to see me play yet this season. It is really exciting that I get to go home and play in front of the home crowd.”
Tip-off from Colonial Life Arena is at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Kevin Fitzgerald and Mark Wise are on the call for the SEC Network.