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Vols Basketball: Toughness the Missing Element

It’s not lost on Rick Barnes that his roster is guard-heavy. Only three players stand taller than six foot eight inches.

Last season’s best rebounder, Grant Williams, finished 14th in the SEC. Nearly every other school had a player averaging more rebounds per game. The team’s second best rebounder disappeared with Robert Hubbs III.

Again undersized, the Vols look for a team effort off the glass. Whether by necessity or design, rebounds will come from more than just the team’s forwards.

“That’s become a point of emphasis,” Barnes said. “You can’t be a good defensive team if you don’t rebound the ball.”

Tennessee actually finished 5th in the SEC with 37 RPG. But inability to control boards popped up at particularly inopportune times.

On February 4, Mississippi State completed a 19-point comeback win over Tennessee. The Vols allowed 21 offensive rebounds.

Ole Miss out-rebounded Tennessee by eight on January 17. The Rebels finished the game on a 41-17 run.

In the SEC Tournament, Tennessee only collected 29 total rebounds.

Admiral Schofield brought in more than four rebounds each game. He’s put on weight and adjusted his effort to boost that number.

“Defense and rebounding is all mental,” he said. “When I see the ball come off the rim, I don’t care how I’ve got to get that ball, I’ve got to get it. We have that toughness that we need for rebounding and defense.”

Schofield impressed during the Pilot Rocky Top League this summer. He says he’s past passing, shooting, defense. It’s time to fine-tune the details and emphasize one mental message.


“Toughness isn’t the guy who’s banging on his chest or the guy who dunks on somebody. Toughness is the guy who comes in everyday and gives you the same exact thing that he gave you yesterday. Toughness is the guy who can get knocked down and beat you down the floor and make a play and not say a word. Toughness is the guy who can get yelled at by the coach for making a mistake and never making that mistake again. Toughness is the guy who can take criticism from his teammates even though it might not have been his fault and go out there and improve. Toughness is the guy who can take the role of sitting down and letting others shine and still cheer for them.”

That from a man whose father served as a Senior Chief in the US Navy.

Closing games will be critical for a Tennessee team that aims at its first tournament appearance since 2014. Barnes’ team knows it’s close. Perhaps the fine details mark the difference between last year’s 16-16 season and a 20-win team.

During practice Thursday afternoon, assistant coaches stressed collapsing on rebounds. The team expresses optimism across the board about true freshman Derrick Walker.

“With the big guys we’ve got coming in this year, we’re going to look pretty good on the boards,” said sophomore guard Lamonte Turner.

Namely, the Vols add six foot eight inch Walker and six foot ten inch Zach Kent. Those freshman buttress 6’11” junior Kyle Alexander. But size alone doesn’t promise rebounds.

“I think a lot of people would tell you rebounding is an effort thing,” Alexander said. “In the game it comes down to who wants the ball more.”

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