Everything Rick Barnes Said Ahead Of Tennessee’s Road Trip To South Carolina

Everything Rick Barnes Said Ahead Of Tennessee's Road Trip To South Carolina

Photo by Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball heads to South Carolina Saturday, looking for its first 3-0 start to conference play since the 2018-19 season.

The Gamecocks are one of the SEC’s worst teams, entering the matchup 7-7 (0-1 SEC) in head coach Lamont Paris’ first season in Columbia.

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes previewed the matchup, discussed his belief Julian Phillips is starting to turn the corner before he heads home and much more.

Here’s everything Barnes said before the SEC matchup.

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On what he’s seen from South Carolina

“You know what, again, the fact that you have a new coach there, Coach Paris is building his program in terms of the effort he can get his guys to play with and trying to get them to max out every possession. It’s always difficult when you go into different jobs because some situations are ahead of others. I think in a short time he’s doing everything he possibly can to do a great job building his culture.”

On South Carolina guard GG Jackson

“There’s a great get for him (Paris) right off the bat. To be able to go flip him in the recruiting process and get him to stay home and go to South Carolina and you know he’s a guy that can create. They look for him to do a lot of that and he gets out in the open court or he gets the ball— I’ve watched him obviously many years through high school and he’s an explosive player that can really get going.”

On if he anticipates Josiah-Jordan James playing against South Carolina

“Yeah. Again he probably wanted to practice more yesterday than we allowed him to but I said after the game we’re going to have to manage him throughout the whole year because he’s that important to us that we need to make sure we can have him every game.”

On how James returning helps Julian Phillips

“I think Jo(siah) will help Julian a lot with just being out there. Being able to talk to him and see the game the way Jo sees it and Santi and those guys see it— Zakai. I see Julian— he’s a freshman that came in and had a lot put on him because of Josiah not being ready to play and a lot of that went to Julian. I thought he handled it well. I do think he got tired which is normal for freshmen because high level games we were in early, it took a toll. I can see now he’s coming out of it. I can tell by watching him in practice, watching what he does and I can see him getting himself on a roll here.”

On what makes him think Phillips is going to get on a roll

“One, defensively he’s much more inclined. He’s really trying to think the game and not just young guys, I can say that for older guys too— cardio toughness is a big thing. Learning how to play hard and the one thing I love about this team, we as a staff love about this team— they really do for the most part give us max effort on the defensive end and you go back with the things we try to do offensively, it’s hard. 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.”

On if there was any common theme to the offensive success against Mississippi State besides making shots

“Well again, as much as you’d like to bottle that and make shots at that clip, that’s not going to happen. We know that. As long as we take good shots and most of the shots were good shots. I thought our offense, it came through our offense the things that we had practiced and worked on. Guys were able to get their feet set and I don’t think felt rushed. It was a good combination of both playing inside and outside. The really good shots that we made, the threes were inside-out. We all know that’s the highest percentage three-point shot. If you can get guys that can put it in the post and post guys that can put it out. We did a good job of that the other night.”

On if he thought they’d be this good of a rebounding team

“We knew we had to improve there. That was the biggest thing. We talked about it. We’ve talked about rebounding every year but it’s been a major emphasis from the time we started back. We can’t be a great defensive team if we don’t rebound the ball. Certainly, we can’t be a great defensive team if we don’t rebound after we get somebody to shoot the ball or after they shoot the ball. On the offensive end we’ve talked about how much better we have to get there. So far we’re not as consistent as we need to be. Our last game, we didn’t do as good as a job blocking out. Some of that probably comes from when you get a lead players let down a little bit or whatever it might be. We did not do what we needed to do from a blockout standpoint in our last game.”

On the importance of keeping Josiah ready but still giving him practice time

“It’s a fine line but it’s a little bit easier, actually a lot easier with an older guy. You think about it, Josiah through his time here has put in more practices than any of these younger guys. The system is in place. He knows the system like the back of his hand and he’s alert. He’s a very cerebral player. When he’s on the side he’s getting his work done but I can assure you everything that he hears going on, he’s listening to it.”

On Julian Phillips being effective as an on ball defender

“The great thing about it and you go back to the numbers, so much of it is matchups too. Who you’re matched up with, but the fact is he’s long. He’s athletic and I think it shows how good he can be. Believe me, and I would say this about any guy on our team, they can get better. I think of Santi when he first got here. Everybody in the league went after Santi. Not anymore. I just know Julian will continue to get better and embrace it because these guys really demand it of each other.”

On the difficulty of managing rotations with players in-and-out of lineup

“No, I told them the other day we’re going to ride the wave, man, whoever is getting it done. We want consistency. And if you want to play, if you really want to go into a game and be ready, you better be ready. Because some games, if somebody is playing great and we feel like we have to keep him out there, it might cut into your minutes or whatever. But they’re going to get a chance. There’s not a guy that we’ve played up to this point that I can’t see not playing, unless they’re just not ready in practice the day before. I think we’ve got an unselfish group of guys, too. The fact is, you’ve got to talk about it. If guys are playing well, and maybe you’re expecting to go in at this point in the game, and you don’t, and all at once you kind of disengage, you go out there and you don’t do what you need to do, you’re going to lose minutes. We don’t have a selfish team. We’ve got a group of guys that want to win. I expect them all to be ready when they’re called on.”

On Zakai Zeigler’s progression during the season

“It’s players. I was thinking about it when I was driving here today. Coaching is a great profession when you’ve got busy that work hard, guys that just want to do it. They’ve got it in their DNA. They’re competitive, they know where they are. They know they need to continue to be coached. Zakai is a guy that, believe it or not at his height, he’s always been a guy that thought score, score, score. But now the fact that he’s really learning how to run a team, manage a team. With the effort that he plays on the defensive end, then the effort he plays with on offense, his speed, what he brings, it’s fun. I would say this, I don’t think he’s anywhere close to where he’s going to be. Because as he continues to learn the game from that position, and certainly when we’re out there with really four guards on the court, and all four of them get going, I think it frees them all up. The fact is, what he wants to do, he’s got to become a great floor general. And he wants to do it.”

On how Tobe Awaka has grown with his minutes over the last month

“I’ve seen it in practice, that’s where you see it, and what he does. You go back, what he did, he earned our confidence because what we saw him do every day in practice. You guys watch practice, you see how hard Santi and Zakai and Josiah and Jahmai Mashack go everyday. Well, that’s what Tobe does. Everyday. And when a guy goes like that, it’s just a matter of getting him in the right games at the right time. When we put him in the games, we weren’t even sure at times — the Maryland game — what he would do at that point in time. He was ready for the opportunity. He took advantage of it. From that point on, we knew that he would be a factor and we would have find a way to make sure that he’s involved every game.”

On Tennessee being ranked second in most metrics but lower in the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll, if he makes anything of those numbers

“No, I don’t. It’s about getting better every day. I’m sure analytics now, everybody has something somewhere. But the only analytic that matters is can we get better today?”

On if he’s surprised by Tobe Awaka’s growth

“Am I surprised? Well, the one thing he did, I’d like to take credit for it, but he’s a rebounder. He’s got a great knack to do it. But he loves to do it. I’ve used the word DNA a lot. It is in his DNA. That’s what he’s always done. Then, once we got him on the court, we started showing him some things, how quickly — he’s skilled. He’s more skilled than he even knows he is. He’s a skilled basketball player. He can do a lot of things out there. But once we got around him, I don’t know if I would say I was surprised. I’m surprised, probably, maybe, he’s coming along quicker than I might have thought. We knew this, if he would’ve had a chance say maybe (like a) John Fulkerson and a Grant Williams, from Day 1, who knows. Because those guys got to walk right out there. (Awaka) came into a situation with three older guys in front of him. He kept working, kept competing. He’s earned the opportunity and all the good things are happening to him. His line the other night, I told our post guys, I would take it every night. Nine points and six rebounds. If we could get that from all those guys, we would be pretty good.”

On what makes a good rebounder

“One, understanding how important it is. And understanding that, if that’s what your position calls on, whether you want to do it or not, you have to go do it. Then you’ve got guys that have some innate talent, ability, that just are very competitive. I would say the great rebounders are high-level competitors. They know they’ve got to get theirs, and some in between, those are yours. On the offensive end, they just want to go and gobble it.” 

Author: Ethan Moore