The summertime is one of the strengths of the Tennessee basketball program. Rick Barnes’ program is known for its development of players, and no part is more crucial than the one-on-one work players get with coaches at Pratt Pavilion.
That work looked a lot different this summer. There weren’t pick up games. There wasn’t group work, and until the last few weeks, coaches weren’t allowed in close quarters with players at all.
“If we’re behind schedule it’s being behind with our younger players who didn’t get a full summer of what it’s really like,” Barnes said. “I’ve used the analogy, the whole summer was like going to a driving range, a putting green and a short game area and never getting to play golf. They weren’t able to play and have competition.”
“With that said, I think we got a lot done. We took it back to the bare basics with fundamentals and things we wanted done.”
Tennessee has four newcomers this season, less than they did a year ago, but the trio of talented freshmen and grad transfer E.J. Anosike are all expected to play a big role. Barnes believes that it’s the conditioning and mental reps lost that will hurt them the most.
When it comes to the 2020-21 season and what that could look like for a sport played inside during flu season, there are a lot of questions but also ideas. For now, Barnes is in wait-and-see mode monitoring how schools do with football and the students’ return to campus.
“We’ve got to get football going first,” Barnes said. “Obviously as a conference we’ve been talking about certain things, nothing drastic to be honest with you. I think it’s so important these next couple weeks that we see how students come back on campus. … We’ll come up with plans, there’s no doubt.”
One idea seemingly gaining momentum is a bubble. The NBA and NHL both have gone to a bubble to finish their seasons and have had overwhelming success in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
Barnes continually preached patience in watching how things progress with the virus but did throw out the idea of having bubble sites in December for programs interested in adding non-conference games.
“I just think we need to pump the brakes on a lot of things and see how football goes,” Barnes said. “Most universities have gone to where they’re going to finish up school in November. In the month of December ESPN could take the Maui Classic or Jimmy V (Classic) and take it to a bubble and for teams that are going to lose opponents because they’re not playing until January, when those tournaments are over they could put some teams together who want more games at a site like that.”
Barnes’ plan moving forward is the same as its been the past five months, stay the course, take the virus seriously and control what you can control. The sixth-year coach was complimentary of his team for doing everything asked of them, including not using the locker room and working out in masks.
While Barnes believes there’s a need to stay patient, he knows the harshness of the reality of another canceled or shortened season.
“We’ve got to play an NCAA Tournament,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to play. If we don’t it’s going to make it almost impossible for some schools. … What we have told our guys is what we tell you. We think we’re going to play basketball, and on time. … We tell them we’re going about it as if we’re going to play until they tell us not we’re planning on getting ready for our first game against Wisconsin.”