Tennessee basketball: Rick Barnes says E.J. Anosike will return for 2021-2022

This apparently won’t be forward E.J. Anosike’s last year with the Tennessee basketball Volunteers.

As Tennessee basketball gets set for a home and home against the Vanderbilt Commodores this week, Rick Barnes addressed the media in his weekly Monday press conference, which you can see by clicking here. In the process, he delivered some major news.

Barnes said he doesn’t think there’s any question senior forward E.J. Anosike will return for the Vols’ 2021-2022 season. A 6’7″ 245-pound graduate transfer from the Sacred Heart Pioneers, Anosike can take advantage of the rule allowing this year to not count against players’ eligibility.

Currently backing up John Fulkerson and Yves Pons, Anosike is  averaging just over three points and three rebounds off a game. Here’s what Barnes said about the prospect of him returning to Tennessee basketball next season.

“I think it’s going to be good for him. I actually told him the day that they made that announcement, I went to him and told him that we had just got a call from the NCAA that he wasn’t eligible this year and he has to come back next year. He looked at me and said, that’s OK, but I’d like to play this year to. I told him and he had a big smile on his face. He is excited about it.”

Obviously, given the fact that he is averaging 11.8 minutes a game right now, there is a question as to how valuable his return will be. However, this is his first year in the system, he average a double-double last year, and Pons is likely to be gone after this year. This is a quote from Barnes about Anosike increasing his minutes.

“It goes back to personnel and sometimes the game is going on and they have a guard lineup out there. The one thing you don’t want to do and we don’t want to do as a coaching staff is put guys on guys and make it very difficult for them to switch. We do quite a bit of switching at times.”

In addition to Anosike, Barnes addressed the play of numerous other Vols. Last week, each of the freshmen earned their first career starts, Keon Johnson against the Arkansas Razorbacks and Jaden Springer against the Texas A&M Aggies.

Both five-star guards were a huge reason for Tennessee basketball’s hype heading into this season. Barnes specifically talked about their adjustment to playing with true post payers like Pons, Fulkerson, Anosike and Olivier Nkamhoua. Here is what he said about their development.

“The biggest thing it they’re willingness to continue to want to be coached. They’re getting themselves in better shape, as I think we are as a team, which is important. They’ve been hurt by this late start, going back all the way to the summertime. They’ve also bene hurt by the stops and starts. The key now is that we can stay consistent, they can stay healthy and keep moving forward.”

Freshman Corey Walker Jr. also became a topic of conversation. The 6’8″ 218-pound four-star forward hasn’t played a game yet and had to miss the first part of the season due to an injury. Barnes said it would be a challenge for him to work his way into the rotation.

“It’s extremely hard to catch up – when you missed what he’s missed, it’s really hard and difficult. He will have to continue to do what he’s doing and get himself in the kind of shape he needs to be in. He will need to get the speed and aggressiveness of what we play with, but it’s difficult. It’s hard to play more than 10 guys in games in what would be quality minutes.”

Given the fact that Barnes said there is no set rotation yet, there’s a chance Walker works his way into the rotation soon. There’s also a chance that Victor Bailey Jr. and Santiago Vescovi remain the starters over Johnson and Springer. Josiah-Jordan James likely isn’t going anywhere, and the same holds true for Vescovi, whose play Barnes also praised Monday.

From a generic perspective, the Vols have a lot they’re dealing with this week since they play Vanderbilt twice. Their matchup at the South Carolina Gamecocks Tuesday was postponed, and Vandy’s matchup at the Missouri Tigers was postponed, due to COVID issues with USC and Mizzou. This is what barnes said about preparing for the same team twice in a week.

“The difference is, that Vandy is a team we play twice a year anyway, it’s just that it’ll be there. In between you won’t have other games to see how other teams may have approached them in ways that you didn’t, but otherwise it’s just a quicker turnaround. Obviously, they will be fresher on our players memories after the game, but we’ll proceed as we always do.”

The Alabama Crimson Tide’s victory over the Vols two Saturdays, while shocking, appears to look more like a fluke after their wins this past week against Arkansas and Texas A&M. UT, even while struggling, continues to show key improvements with their freshmen developing, Vescovi finally coming into his own and Fulkerson developing more toughness.

Simply put, things still look good for Tennessee basketball. The will lose an opportunity to make a statement to the polls this week given the fact that Vandy won’t be that impressive of a foe, but the Vols still can’t overlook them.