After a long wait, the Tennessee basketball team will be hitting the court on Tuesday night to open the 2020-21 season. It’s been a lengthy delay for these Vols, especially after having to shut things down and cancel their first four games due to COVID-19.
But, Tuesday night will begin the highly-anticipated season for this team. It took some work to make this game happen with Colorado, after UT-Martin had to pull out due to COVID issues. The Vols faced their own issues over the past month, as they just hit the practice court again last Friday. Rick Barnes discussed the Vols being behind when it comes to preparation.
“I think we’re behind, because like I said earlier, we had a chance to go up and down the floor three times in two weeks leading into tomorrow. I do think the older guys can handle it, more so than the younger guys. Our younger guys, the stops and starts have definitely affected them more in terms of their recall and being able to understand what we’re doing. Overall, I’ve got to think that these guys, I know they’re excited about playing. We got back early Friday and we went twice that day just to break it up, because we knew they would struggle with stamina. It’s just a tough practice when you’ve been off two weeks.”
Barnes also added that Drew Pember and Corey Walker will not be available for tomorrow night’s game.
The COVID bug hit Barnes a few weeks ago and he talked about his experience dealing with the virus. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo reached out to Barnes to prepare him for what to expect.
“Well, the toughest part was just missing all of you guys. I just wanted to hug all you guys and tell you how much I love you. That was the hardest part about isolation. There wasn’t a day that I had it that I didn’t feel like I could go to work. I could’ve gone to work. I thought it progressively got worse for me around the sixth and seventh days. I’m really thankful for Tom Izzo. Tom reached out to me early. When I get sick, I expect to start getting better each day, and I was cruising along there pretty good. It probably took me twelve days before I felt really good, and I don’t think at any point in time I lost my sense of smell or taste, but I did lose my appetite.”
The positive situation that could come out of all of this waiting is the veteran leadership. The Vols not having preseason type activities could hurt some teams, but Barnes will rely on his older guys to carry the team early, if need be.
“Our older guys, they’ve been able to handle the stops and starts better than the younger guys. 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.”
It’s been 267 days since Tennessee has played a meaningful basketball game, after having their season cut short in Nashville earlier this year. If you remember, the Vols were about to take the court in the SEC Tournament when the season was cancelled due to COVID. I know I’ll never forget that weird morning in Bridgestone Arena, as we all waited for the final decision from Commissioner Greg Sankey.
On Tuesday night, you’ll see a lot of familiar faces, but the Vols will be relying on some of their newcomers to bring that extra juice. Barnes discussed what he expected from Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer on the defensive side of the ball.
“They both have the ability to guard the ball one on one, and they’re certainly going to get challenged with that tomorrow night. Both of those guys can rebound the ball. They have the ability to blow it out and go with it in transition, which I think really helps a lot. I think offensively, we’ll watch them grow up in front of us. One thing we expect out of both of them is to come in and guard the ball and we hope to create some havoc there.”
So, we’ve finally made it, college basketball in Knoxville is here and this team has the makeup to be playing well into postseason. But, for the sake of enjoying the small things, let’s just be happy we’re getting to watch hoops, one game at a time.
All Images Courtesy Of Tennessee Athletic Communications