There was a mix of new and old faces on the floor at Pratt Pavilion on Friday.
With the departure of names such as Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Jordan Bone, the Tennessee men’s basketball team is looking to replace both production and leadership from a team that reached the Sweet Sixteen a season ago.
With a crop of young talent getting set to make their collegiate debuts later this month, the Vols will look to their veterans to pick up that production and step into leadership roles.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes and the rest of his 2019-20 team and coaching staff spoke to the media on Friday about that and more during the team’s annual media day.
Here are the takeaways:
Replacing inside production
With 70-percent of their scoring production now gone, Tennessee is going to have to rely on that heavy mixture of youth and experience to make up for it, especially in the backcourt.
Barnes understands that to find that, the coaches will have to be patient while players learn how to score inside the perimeter.
“We do feel like we have some inside guys that have the ability to score,” Barnes said. “But I think we go back to a couple of years ago. I said the same thing about Grant Williams and some other guys, it does take time for them to understand how to play in a tight space and can’t mess with the ball on certain areas of the court.
“It’s up to us as a coaching staff to continue to work putting guys in those situations because we do feel like we have guys that can score.”
Barnes, staff like being around team
Barnes said it several times during his media day press conference. He doesn’t just like the team he’s preparing to take into a new season, he likes being around them.
That togetherness off the court is certainly a good recipe for on-court success, and while Barnes doesn’t think he has a full grasp on the team’s identity, he’s liked what he’s seen out of them in the early stages of their development as a team.
“I don’t know if I have a grasp other than the fact it’s been a fun team to be around and a fun team to coach,” Barnes said. “They’re working the direction that we want to go. We still have a lot of young guys that are still learning the details of some things, but their attitudes have been terrific.
“It’s been a fun group to be with and I just think it’s going to be a group that’s fun to be with as the year goes on.”
LaMonte Turner ready to step up in leadership role
After losing four veteran players for last season to the NBA, no one may have a bigger role on the team to fill than senior guard LaMonte Turner.
Turner joins Jordan Bowden as the only two seniors on the team and with bench laden with youth, Turner understands that his abilities to lead by
example are just as big as his abilities on the court.
“I would say just having to speak up a little more, help coach, teach the new guys,” Turner said. “I have definitely embraced having a bigger role on the team.”
Barnes and the coaching staff have also seen Turner take on that role, which has also helped him in becoming a better player.
“I think probably the biggest difference (in Turner) is his everyday preparation,” Barnes said. “Trying to make everyday a good day in terms of his focus in practice, not only concerned with himself, but thinking a lot about his teammates.”
Tennessee will feature six newcomers this season, two of which bring some valuable experience as transfers from Pac 12 programs.
Highly touted true freshman Josiah-Jordan James, a former five-star recruit out of Charleston, South Carolina is expected to make an early impact for the Vols. He’s joined by guard Davonte Gaines, forward Oliver Nkamhoua and local product Drew Pember as part of the 2019 recruiting class.
According to junior forward Yves Pons, the incoming freshman class has bought into the standard of Tennessee basketball early on.
"They've adapted to the culture of Tennessee," Pons said. "They've put the work in. This is a hard working team, one of the best teams in the nation. So we have a big expectation for every new guy."
Barnes also picked up transfer 7-foot forward Uros Plavsic out of Arizona State and junior guard Victor Bailey Jr. from Oregon.
The additions of Bailey and Plavsic add depth and big-time college basketball experience to the Vols roster.
"I think they are going to help us big time," junior guard Jalen Johnson said of the transfers. "I think they're going to be special players. They bring some size to the team."