Rick Barnes knows exactly how much the next few games mean for his basketball team. It’s all about consistency and how his players continue to get better on the practice court. The rotation over the past few games has been led by the veterans, with younger players getting on the court early in games.
Barnes spoke with the media on Monday, as the Vols prepare for their Tuesday night game against Appalachian State. The next few games will be very important in the new players gaining playing time.
“I think it’s important, and obviously we’re just hoping we can get them in. I do think the more we can play right now—before the last game we talked about how long it seemed like we had practiced, how long it had been since we played, so it’s going to be important. These minutes are going to be very important, and the guys have to understand that it’s about us getting better and having great respect for our opponent. But those minutes aren’t going to be given to anybody. They’re going to be minutes that are earned starting in practice. That’s how we’re going to move forward.”
The first two games for the Vols have given fans a glimpse of how good this team can be on the defensive end of the court, something Rick Barnes takes great pride in.
“I think our defensive effort has been good. We’ve played two really good basketball teams who do some really good schemes, and they’ve got players. We know, because it’s no different than what we’ve done in the past. We play defense initially the way we should, and we lock in with our scouting report. We’re going to force teams into driving the ball. Then, we’ve got to be able to guard whoever’s in front of us. You stay in front of them. We can’t let them get on our hips and get to the rim. Through the first two games, I think we’ve done a good job for the most part doing what we’ve asked them to do.
If you’re going to play, you have to earn it in practice, according to Barnes.
“These guys want playing time. They want to play, and every day in practice the get a chance to do that. The games are important, but the bottom line is they aren’t going to get in the game if they don’t get it done in practice. I’ve told them that over and over”.
The word consistency was thrown around a lot today by Barnes, as he wants to see this team take advantage of the upcoming games, especially the younger players.
“The word is consistency. We want consistency. One of the last things I tell them every day, every game, is we do what we practice. Simply do what we practice, and we’re going to be okay. If guys don’t practice well, they’re probably not going to get a chance to play as much as they would like to play.”
Santiago Vescovi has changed his body over the off-season and he looks to have become faster in his defensive presence. Vescovi spent a good chunk of the summer back home, putting in the training to become the leader Tennessee needs on both ends of the court.
“I think the big thing with him is that he’s deceptive. I think when you look at certain guys on the team, they get down and guard that’s impressive but he’s a very deceptive and very intelligent defender. Same thing offensively. Terrific with pass fakes, ball fakes. Quicker than you think. He understands angles better than most guys, but defensively again, he understands the mental preparation, he understands what he needs to do.”
Tennessee has two freshman that have been contributing early for their team this season. We’ve seen over the past two games that Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson have been put into the games during critical times. Rick Barnes was asked how he evaluates the pair.
“I think sometimes as coaches we can overthink it. Going into it, Colorado is a tough opener. We knew it was going to be a high level, high stakes game. You don’t want to put those guys in a position where they don’t have success early, because you don’t want to lose them for a week with them keeping it in the back of their minds. I think what we learned about those guys is that they have short memories which is a good thing and the second thing is just the second game. You have to look at me for this, but I think we should have subbed earlier. I knew going into the game the other night against Cincinnati that we were going to get two or three guys in before the 16-minute mark. I think you’ll see that pattern continuing.”
The #10 Vols will be back in action on Tuesday night, as they play Appalachian State at TBA. Tennessee will be looking to start the season 3-0.