Tennessee basketball: Rick Barnes will clearly rely on veterans early

COLUMBIA, MISSOURI - JANUARY 08: Head coach Rick Barnes of the Tennessee Volunteers directs his team against the Missouri Tigers in the second half at Mizzou Arena on January 08, 2019 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
COLUMBIA, MISSOURI - JANUARY 08: Head coach Rick Barnes of the Tennessee Volunteers directs his team against the Missouri Tigers in the second half at Mizzou Arena on January 08, 2019 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

Monday’s media session suggested the Tennessee basketball Volunteers’ freshmen aren’t ready.

Don’t expect much out of the hyped-up Tennessee basketball 2020 recruiting class early on in this season. When the Vols tipoff the season Tuesday night against the Colorado Buffaloes, the veterans will be leading the way.

In his Monday press conference, which you can watch by clicking here, Barnes had numerous quotes suggesting the young guys aren’t ready. UT has two five-star freshmen in Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson, and it also has a four-star in Corey Walker Jr.

Barnes said that Walker is one of two players, the other being Drew Pember, who won’t even be available when Tennessee basketball’s season begins. He also detailed the issues all the young guys have had, though, with the constant stops to the season due to COVID. Here’s a bit of what he said.

"“We know those guys are talented, but the starts and stops have definitely hurt them. They’ve shown glimpses of what they can be, but they’ve struggled physically at times, because the older guys don’t need as much, but can go all day long."

To further his point, when asked about which players have gotten better, Barnes touted Santiago Vescovi’s improved athleticism, E.J. Anosike developing a better shot and all other returning players either gaining in confidence or improving in what they were asked to improve in. Here’s what he said about the experienced players handling the offseason issues.

"“The older guys, they came into the gym and did what they were supposed to do. It’s the team concept where when we call something, the older guys get it and the younger guys are looking around saying ‘What was that?’ but that’s where we have to have a different package with some of those younger guys. The older guys, they should know. They should be able to handle it. The biggest thing we’ve tried to do is keep those young guys as fresh as we can and try to teach them how hard they are going to have to play.”"

Now, Barnes did say that Johnson and Springer can be one-on-one on-ball defenders, something he expects them to do immediately. Offensively, though, he said they will “watch them grow up,” meaning they clearly don’t seem to be ready to shoulder that load yet.

What does this all mean? Well, Tennessee basketball is clearly going to be relying heavily on its experienced players when the season begins. The Vols have some good ones, as reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons and leading scorer John Fulkerson are back for ther senior seasons, and Anosike, a graduate transfer, averaged a double-double last year.

Not only is Vescovi back at guard, but Victor Bailey Jr. is a fourth-year junior after transferring from the Oregon Ducks and sitting out last year. Josiah Jordan-James is back to after starting most of last year. Simply put, the Vols have plenty of experienced talent to complement the freshmen. Here are a couple of other takeaways from his press conference.

No vocal leader

According to Barnes, nobody has emerged on the team as a loud and vocal leader. With so much experience, that could be a problem, as somebody needs to step up. It appears to be coming from a surprising person at this point. Barnes named Uros Plavsic.

"“The loudest guy on our team is Uros. He’s talks the way we want him to talk on the court.”"

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Lots of uncertainty

Given the fact that players have been out at different times and so many games have been canceled, changing up preparation for opponents, Barnes noted that the Vols are behind right now. That means picking things up on the fly. Here’s what he said about where the team stands right now with the opener a day away.

"“(Monday) is actually the first time we have been able to do what we normally would do, and (Tuesday) will be the first time that we’ve had our whole team together on the same bench. Our substitutions, we can think about it, we don’t know how it’s going to play out.”"

Taking all this into account, there are tons of questions about Tennessee basketball heading into the season despite the Vols being a top 15 team with the perfect mix of veterans and newcomers. The exciting talent everybody wants to see may not be on display early.

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However, most Vol fans are just glad the season is back, especially given the significant struggles of the football program. There will finally be some positive news, and UT has an exciting opponent in Colorado to start things off.