Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Basketball Returned To The Top Five

Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Basketball Returned To The Top Five

Photo by Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Monday after the Vols jumped five spots to No. 4 in the Jan. 23 AP Poll.

The Vols are winners of two consecutive games after falling to Kentucky last week and enter a week with home games against Georgia and Texas.

Barnes discussed Mike White’s first Georgia team, his team’s health and much more. Here’s everything the eighth-year Tennessee coach said.

More From RTI: Julian Phillips Earns SEC Freshman Of The Week Honors

On if the team is fully healthy

“Not totally. We’ve still got some guys a little bit under the weather. I think most teams go through it at some point in time. A lot maybe this time of year. But the fact is, we’ve got some guys that, when they’re down, we’ve been fortunate to have some guys take advantage of that opportunity. We’re looking forward to everybody getting healthy so we can get going and get some rhythm back where we want to be. I said it the other day, I’m really proud of our guys. We had some guys that were really under the weather and they fought through it. Really gave us everything they could. We’ve got a couple guys, I think, out today. But maybe by tomorrow we can get a good report.”

On Zakai Zeigler leading the SEC in assists in conference play

“Yeah, we’re going to go with this lineup. Again, if everybody is healthy, that’s when it comes time to go. Really proud of him and what he’s doing. Just watching him really starting to understand the game and what that position calls for. The fact that he’s embraced it. He’s doing a great job. And he’s only going to get better at learning how to manage games and manage his teammates. Really proud of Tyreke (Key). We were not getting anything at the rim until Tyreke came into the game. I think it shows his maturity. The way we look at it, we’ve got six, seven starters. I think our guys’ maturity shows that. Really like this team and the fact that it’s a very unselfish group of guys.”

On Tyreke Key hunting his shot at LSU

“We do need it because he’s good at it. When he gets his feet set and gets good looks, he’s one guy that can get his shot off when closely contested, and we need him to do that. He’s worked hard at not just impacting the game that way, but other ways. Like the other day, his defense was really good. But he really was a guy that I thought brought that initial thrust. Because (LSU) was doing a good job early, keeping us off the glass. And when he came in the game, he really got aggressive. Got to the glass and did some things.”

On if Josiah-Jordan James conditioning is back to 100%

“I think he would do it, just out of sheer toughness. Maybe he’s playing a little bit too much right now. But we know that we can’t assimilate what he needs for games, other than games, this time of year. He’ll keep getting better with that, his conditioning, he’ll do that. Again, everything is game-to-game. We’ve talked about the players and guys playing good and we’re going to ride that wave with them. He’ll play as many minutes as I know that we would need him. I’d like to think we could keep him under 30 if we can.”

On what he thought about the small ball lineup against LSU

“It’s good because we’ve got experience out there and we’ve got Josiah who is another guy that defensively is another guy that understands scouting reports and you put him out there with Zakai, and Santi, two guys that really lock in on scouting reports. I mean, they’re really good at it. They can do a lot of different things and what I would call fix-it guys. We’ve got to get (Olivier Nkamhoua) back to being a consistent guy that can really help that lineup. Julian is going to get better and better. He’s certainly getting more aggressive on offense. He’s going to have to figure out a way to keep himself out of foul trouble early. Know where he needs to get that thrust to the glass and not foul. Overall, it was a lineup we thought it was a lineup we would play a lot coming into the year, but we didn’t get a chance to work on it with Josiah being out. The good thing about it is, through the season so far, we’ve been able to play different lineups and that’s what has been good about this team. We can play different ways with different guys.”

On if its rare for a sophomore like Zakai Zeigler to be as locked into the scouting report as he is

“I know I overuse the term DNA, but it is in his DNA. He’s just going to fight with whatever he’s got to get through screens. He’s a high-level competitor. He’s going to do whatever he can and sometimes when he’s not play well, it hurts him because he wants to fix it right then and right there. That’s where I think he’s gotten better with his poise. Knowing that he’s not going to make every shot, he’s not going to make every play. Can’t go to the rim when he gets upset and just throw up a contested shot. That’s where he’s getting so much better with his overall game, but he and Santi, again, Saturday, just did a terrific job. They had two guys going into the game where we knew we were going to have to put a lot of focus on with one being a guard and one being a post player. Santi for the most part did a terrific job.”

On facing a Mike White coach teamed

“Mike is going to win wherever he goes. He’s a terrific coach. He did a terrific job at Florida and he’ll do a terrific job at Georgia. Mike’s teams, defensively, they’re going to guard you. They’re going to make you work on every possession and being the coach that he is, he’ll find a way to do what he needs to do with his team offensively. A guy that continues to tweak throughout, he’ll do that, but they’re going to play hard, they’re going to be aggressive and anything that is fundamentally to go with this game, his teams are going to be really good at it.”

On College Gameday being in Knoxville for the Vols and Lady Vols this week

“The further we go into the season, everything gets magnified and it is bigger. It is a compliment to our program and certainly to the University of Texas program that GameDay thinks this is the place to be on Saturday. Before we get there, we have got Georgia. We know that, believe me, we know that we have got to be ready to play. We’re certainly locked into where we are in the SEC and what we would like to get done. We will look at that one first. But again it is really remarkable, the great job that Kellie (Harper) is doing after all she had to deal with early in the year, she and her staff. I am not surprised that they are getting it going at the right time because they know what they are doing. They had to battle a lot early and get through it. It seems like they are on their way.”

On what Jahmai Mashack needs to do

“Again, he still has to continue to be consistent — he has to do his job defensively and get to the offensive glass. He does that well, too. Those are things that defensively, we expect him to give us another guy that go in and not only guard the ball and be a fixer, somebody who can fix plays on defense. Offensively, we just need him to settle down and let the game come to him.”

On Uros Plavsic status

Sports information director Tom Satkowiak: “He is expected to be available today.”

On Jonas Aidoo

“I will tell you guys, Jonas has a bright future. Those two things, he is going to continue to develop and be consistent. That we know night in and night out what we can get from him. When he really wants to lock in and play, he has proven he can really make an impact in games. We just need, I talk about roles, we just need everyone to understand the role they need to play even if it is not exactly what they want at this point in time. You guys have watched it this year, roles change throughout the year. What we have to do to get where we want to go is we need to understand consistency. Are we going to get certain things from guys every night?”

On Coaches vs. Cancer

“I think everyone of us knows someone that has dealt with cancer. We lost someone, I lost really one of my childhood best friends at 43. It has impacted all of us some way, somehow. Certainly, last year, going to the Dick Vitale gala and seeing what work is being done there, we need to do all we can. Everybody has been impacted by cancer. Everybody. I would like to see us work and puts funds into to help someday bring an end to it anyway we can.”

On Tyreke Key growing as a leader

“I think Tyreke has definitely added to his game in a lot of different ways. By nature, he is quiet. We have tried to tell him — and his teammates love him. We have put him in some situations this year that he has never been in. He embraced it. He has never backed down from any of it. We are fortunate that we were able to get him because he has been a big impact with our program.”

Author: Ethan Moore