Olivier Nkamhoua: Rick Barnes ‘A Winner At Heart’

Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Jumped To No. 2 In AP Poll

Rick Barnes Olivier NkamhouaTennessee HC Rick Barnes and F Olivier Nkamhoua. Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball silenced the critics and haters Saturday afternoon, knocking off popular Final Four pick Duke in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.

The Vols and their seniors had plenty to prove after a lackluster final six weeks entering the NCAA Tournament. Nkamhoua led the way for that group with 27 points as he and fellow program staples Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James combined for 48 points to push Tennessee to the Sweet 16 to its first Sweet 16 in their tenure.

But no player entered Saturday with more critics or ridiculers than veteran coach Rick Barnes. Barnes recent struggles in the NCAA Tournament have been well documented and something his players were aware of.

“I mean anyone that opens Twitter and reads Tennessee might be a little bit aware of it,” Nkamhoua said postgame. “But we don’t really worry about all of that. That’s people that want to make stories. People who want to be controversial. It is what it is.”

Criticism of Barnes’ NCAA Tournament track record weren’t completely unfounded. The eighth-year Tennessee coach had made just one Sweet 16 since 2008 before this year’s Vols got over the hump against the Blue Devils.

However, the recent struggles didn’t tell the full story of Barnes’ NCAA Tournament track record. The veteran coach took Texas to the second weekend of the tournament five of his first 10 years in Austin including a trip to the 2003 Final Four. Barnes also took Clemson to the Sweet 16 — one of four trips in the program’s history — in 1997.

More From RTI: Grant Williams Trolls Celtics Teammate And Former Duke Star Jayson Tatum

Recency bias is as prevalent in sports as anything else and Barnes getting Tennessee back to the Sweet 16 bolsters his strong coaching resume.

“Wins in March are the wins people always want to bring up,” Nkamhoua said. “Everybody knows coach is a great coach. An all time coach. He’s probably going to be a Hall of Fame coach. Whatever disrespect people have for him really doesn’t make sense. He’s been proving himself his whole career and he’s a guy that wants to win above everything else.”

Barnes adding to his coaching pedigree with more NCAA Tournament success helps make his Hall of Fame resume more formidable. The 68-year old North Carolina native has a fantastic track record of developing players and regular season success, leading the Vols to their best stretch of regular season success in program history.

Nkamhoua touched on Barnes’ track record of developing players as a major reason why he’s a high-level coach.

“I really don’t think this should be something that will make or break his career but it shows that he coaches guys to be better,” Barnes said. “Me personally or Grant (Williams), Admiral (Schofield) or almost everybody on this team. He coaches guys to get better and forces his players to get better and if you have doubts of Coach Barnes that’s on you. He’s been doing this for a long time and everybody knows that.

“He wants to win and is a winner at heart. To be honest, that’s all you can ask for of a coach.”

Barnes can add to his resume and quiet more doubters this coming week as Tennessee heads to New York City needing one win to make the program’s second Elite Eight and two wins to make the program’s first Final Four.

Author: Ethan Moore