Barnes speaks to media in season-ending press conference

Photo by Brad Blackwelder.

Tennessee head basketball coach Rick Barnes held his first press conference in Knoxville since the Vols 63-62 upset loss to 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago in the NCAA Tournament last Saturday.

After notching Tennessee basketball’s first regular season SEC Championship in a decade and leading the Volunteers to their best record (26-9, 11-5 SEC) since 2010, Barnes is still searching for areas of improvement.

“The word I used a lot was consistency this year… I think individual guys need to be more consistent,” said Barnes. “You really want to get back to fundamentals, conditioning I think is a big part of that.”

Barnes noted that one thing was different from this year’s NCAA Tournament than his previous 21 times in the Big Dance. He said that sophomore center Kyle Alexander’s injury was the first time he has had a player injured in the tournament. However, Barnes didn’t shy away from complementing the Ramblers and their improbable Final Four run.

“I think they (Loyola-Chicago) have as good of a chance as anybody to win the National Championship,” said Barnes. “When you watch them play they’re a highly efficient offensive team and a very good defensive team.”

Things weren’t so happy-go-lucky for No. 3 seed Tennessee after the Ramblers victory last Saturday according to Barnes, but his team was anxious to get back to work.

“They were devastated, there’s not much you can say” said Barnes. “Starting today they’re all back in the gym. They’re wanting to get back.”

Despite returning every player on the roster except for one player, Barnes stated that the lone senior on the team, James Daniel III, will be missed.

“He had an impact and we’ll miss what he gave us,” Barnes said. “I thought it was really good the pressure that he put on Jordan Bone and Lamonte Turner.”

The hardware didn’t stop at SEC Coach of the Year for Barnes, as he will be a recipient of the 2018 Coach Wooden “Keys to Life” Award during the Final Four weekend. The award is given to basketball staff that models high moral character, integrity and faith.

“Well first of all I can tell you there are a lot of guys more deserving of the award than me,” said Barnes. “It’s an honor… He (Wooden) impacted this sport long after he quit coaching.”

Barnes ended his press conference with news that will elate much of the Vols faithful. Tennessee will renew its in-state rival with Memphis next season and newly hired Tigers head coach Penny Hardaway confirmed the news on Monday. The two teams will play one game each in Memphis and Knoxville and finish up with a matchup in the Music City.

“Don’t hold me to this, but I think the way the contract sets up, I think we go there first, they come here,” said Barnes. “We’d like to make it a big day of basketball in Nashville… Some kind of jamboree or extravaganza.”

The Volunteers and Memphis have met 25 times in the past, as Tennessee leads the series 14-11. The last game of the rivalry ended in an 85-80 win for the Vols in 2013.

Featured image courtesy of Brad Blackwelder

Daniel III leaves Vols with experience, new attitude

Hampton, Virginia native James Daniel III leaves Tennessee with a better attitude and improved skill. Daniel improved both his play and his outlook after Vols Head Coach Rick Barnes brought him in last summer as a grad-transfer. Daniel thanked Barnes and the program for his time on Rocky Top in an Instagram post Monday.

Daniel performed tremendously off the bench for the orange-and-white all season. With a season-high of 17 points, he had to change his play style after leading the NCAA in scoring (27 points per game) at Howard in 2016.

Averaging a solid 5.6 points, 2.8 assists and 1.4 rebounds per game off the bench this year, Daniel remained consistent for Tennessee.

The 2016 Volunteers team proved to be much deeper than what Tennessee faithful expected in previous seasons under Barnes. Daniel typically served as the second guard off Barnes’ bench behind sophomore SEC-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner.

Barnes reached into his bench for Daniel’s stability. Daniel brought crisp passing and the ability to lock up opposing guards. He recorded 10 assists in multiple games and recorded 28 steals on the year.

Daniel also made 37 percent of his 3-pointers after hitting nearly 50 shots from beyond-the-arc in the 2017-18 season. Barnes looked to him to play about half each game. Daniel averaged around 20 minutes per contest.

With plenty talent, Daniel fought and scrapped for minutes against starters Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden. Daniel also competed for play time with Turner, who had a career year.

As much as Daniel did this season for the Tennessee, the most important legacy he leaves in Knoxville is a culture change for this young Vols roster. His motto, “turn me up,” has become a popular slogan around Knoxville. Players, fans and even coaches caught on to the team’s mantra.

Tennessee will have an extremely young team going forward. Three of the five starters are sophomores and the other two starters are juniors. With Daniel’s absence, Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander will be the only seniors with significant playing time on the roster next year unless Barnes manages to pick up another graduate transfer.

Daniel entered as a player from Howard with expertise in scoring, but he leaves Knoxville as a player who grew into a solid all-around teammate. Barnes and the Volunteers will miss his presence in 2019.

Written by Caleb Souders 

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics