Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes met with the local media Thursday before the Vols practice, which was also open to the media.
Here are three notes on Barnes’ press conference and Tennessee’s practice.
Culture carries on
If you have watched a Tennessee basketball game in the last two seasons you have likely heard an announcer discuss the Vols excellent culture under Rick Barnes and the Vols’ veteran-led roster.
Grant Williams, Jordan Bone, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander may be gone, but that culture has carried on to the new group of Vols.
“We’ve got enough guys back who have really showed terrific leadership,” Barnes said. “I think they’ve helped these guys (newcomers) from the time they stepped on campus in June, really helped them.”
Barnes was providing much hands-on coaching during practice, especially for new players. Veteran voices like Lamonte Turner’s were also heard frequently at Pratt Pavilion on Thursday.
“You want to see your older guys coach,” Barnes said. “You want to see them talk and have a voice and you’d like to think, after they’ve been with you a while, they know exactly what we’re all looking for.”
Four of Tennessee’s six newcomers this season are freshman. Barnes has so far been pleased with how they’ve fit in and worked.
“I’ve seen a group of guys that want to be taught basketball,” Barnes said. “They’re open minded in the fact that they have bought in to what the older guys have told them about the work ethic it takes, what’s expected in our program.”
The centerpiece of the Vols 2019 recruiting class is Charleston, South Carolina native Josiah Jordan James. James, a 6-foot-6-inches point guard, was the 22nd ranked player in his class according to the 247Sports composite rankings. The McDonald’s All-American athlete has impressed since arriving on campus.
“Josiah’s terrific,” Barnes said. “He’s worked as hard as any player we’ve had as a freshman coming in, as a freshman … He wants to get better, he wants to win. He’s one of those guys that winning’s what matters to him.”
“He’s had an injury that he’s had to work through a little bit, but he’s such a tough kid he doesn’t want to talk about it or tell anyone about it,” Barnes said. “We’ve kept him in and out of practice some the last few weeks just because we know we need him fresh and ready by the time the season rolls around.”
While James was the focal piece, he’s not the only freshman that could see minutes for the Vols this year.
Olivier Nkamhoua’s athleticism stood out right away at practice Thursday, as the 6-foot-8-inches forward looks to contribute right away. The Helsinki, Finland native’s jump shot and touch also impressed.
“Olivier’s one of those guys that’s very self-driven,” Barnes said. “He’s got his personal goals and he wants to make an impact as a freshman. He’s really embraced being coached … He’s very strong, very active, terrific stamina for a freshman. He’s made great strides.”
Looking at the frontcourt
Going into the season my biggest question mark for the Vols involves what they can get out of their frontcourt and how much depth they have there.
Uroš Plavšic is a physically dominating force on the court. At 7 feet and 240 pounds, Tennessee simply doesn’t have anyone like him on the roster. The Arizona State transfer also showed a nice jump shot Thursday.
Barnes didn’t have any update on whether or not Plavšic would be eligible, but did reveal an estimated timeline on when the Vols hope to hear about the Serbian big man.
“I think within the next couple of weeks. I don’t think we can put a date on it, but I think in the next couple weeks we’ll probably hear something,” Barnes said. “If he’s eligible there’s no doubt that he’ll play a significant role for this team.”
Tennessee lost four big men to either the NBA or transfer this year. While the Vols brought in new post options, they are also moving around some returning players.
Yves Pons is only 6 feet 5 inches, but the junior is built like a linebacker. After playing his first two seasons at guard, the Vols are giving him some cross training this fall.
“We’ve really used him as one of those hybrid type guys in a role like Admiral Schofield,” Barnes said of Pons. “He can play both inside and outside.”
Pons worked mostly with the big men during Thursday’s practice.