As if the momentum wasn’t already working against Tennessee basketball, the loss of a key assistant drew more concerns about the future of the program Tuesday morning under Rick Barnes. His replacement hire will be critical.
Kim English, who has been with the Vols since 2019, was named the new head coach of the George Mason Patriots. In the process, Rocky Top may have lots its most effective recruiter, the guy responsible for keeping UT rolling after that 2018-2019 season.
Sure, English wasn’t there for that. However, he arrived in April of 2019. That following August, Tennessee basketball secured just its second five-star commitment under Barnes, Keon Johnson. English’s predecessor, Rob Lanier, who is currently head coach of the Georgia State Panthers, was more responsible for Johnson, but the deal wasn’t closed until English arrived.
Two months after Johnson, though, five-star Jaden Springer committed to UT. A year later, Chandler was instrumental in securing five-star guard Kennedy Chandler out of Memphis. The Vols landed him and four-star Jahmai Mashack for 2021, and they are in contention for numerous elite 2022 five-stars.
Simply put, with English at the helm, UT began securing top-notch talent on a rotational basis. How Barnes handles one-and-done players from a coaching perspective is a different story, but he is now landing them.
Now, though, with English gone, will the Vols be able to continue that success? They still don’t have anybody committed for 2022, and given the way this past season just played out, it’s going to be hard for them to maintain their momentum on the recruiting trail.
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If Barnes can’t maintain that momentum, he’ll generate many more questions about the state of the program under him, fair or not. Right now, recruiting is the biggest thing that is keeping the public committed to him after a dramatic underachieving year with such elite talent.
Barnes’ mission is simple now. He has to find another coach who can help him land elite talent. Given Barnes’ age and some of the recent criticism of him leading another underachieving team, he desperately needs another youthful, energetic guy who can keep the program relevant to prospects across the country.
Of course, Barnes did a good job finding English to replace Lanier in the first place. As a result, there’s no reason to not have faith in his next assistant coaching hire. He’s got a pretty solid track record on this front, particularly at UT.
Not only has Barnes been finding good recruiters, but he also has been finding good coaches in general. English can definitely coach, and Lanier is 35-19 in two seasons at Georgia State, having just led his team to a Sun Belt East title.
The good news for Tennessee basketball is that if they don’t land elite five-stars, they’ll have three and four-year guys Barnes can develop, and he seems to be better on that front than he is managing elite talent. However, if he is going to keep UT at a certain level, he’ll have to lure some top-notch guys. Whether or not he’ll be able to continue to do it remains a huge question.