Tennessee basketball is here to stay with Rick Barnes as head coach. The Volunteers’ upcoming schedule and recruiting prove that.
When Rick Barnes took over in 2015, Tennessee basketball was in turmoil. The Vols had fired their second head coach in four years, this one after one year, due to NCAA violations that threatened them with probation.
As a result, Barnes had to rebuild the program with developmental three-stars, which is where Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bone and Grant Williams came from. He had to develop Admiral Schofield, who was already committed to the program. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden are part of that crew too, and they are still in the program.
However, after back to back NCAA Tournament appearances and multiple weeks at No. 1 in 2019, Barnes is proving that he is as committed to Tennessee basketball as he was to the Texas Longhorns. And after four years on the job, he looks like he could go another 15 years despite the fact that he turned 65 last month.
Recent scheduling and recruiting proves just how far Barnes has taken the program. Heading into the week, the Vols already head five-star combo guard Josiah James Jr. committed to this class after losing a ton of talent. They also had five-star forward Corey Walker committed for 2020.
But on Tuesday, they made another splash with the commitment of four-star shooting guard Keon Johnson. Despite being a four-star, Johnson is likely to see his rating boost to a five-star by the end because of his performance as MVP of the Team USA junior minicamp in July.
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With another four-star prospect in East Tennessee still on the board, Samson Ruzhentsev of Chattanooga, and numerous other elite prospects looking at UT, 2020 could be the greatest recruiting class in school history. Recruiting isn’t the only piece of evidence for how much the program is on the rise.
Scheduling proves it too. One day before Johnson’s commitment, Tennessee basketball’s non-conference schedule was released. The Vols will play seven of their 13 non-conference games against teams who made the NCAA Tournament last year, and that doesn’t include their game against the Memphis Tigers, who have the No. 1 ranked recruiting class.
They used to play that many games against tournament teams during the Bruce Pearl years. But unlike now, the SEC was way down during that time. So Barnes has the Vols playing Pearl’s schedule in non-conference play while also dealing with a very deep SEC.
Simply put, Tennessee basketball is now recruiting with the best and scheduling with the best. That’s after a losing record Barnes’s first year and a .500 record his second year on Rocky Top. He clearly had a plan to rebuild the program, and now that he’s rebuilt it, he’s not going anywhere. The events at the beginning of this week prove that.