Tuesday Press Conference — Rick Barnes, Kyle Alexander

Rick Barnes

(On if he’s ever had a player with similar experience to Kyle Alexander)
“It’s been a long time. I’d have to think back, probably while I was an assistant at George Mason, and we were trying to build that program. We took some guys like that, that hadn’t been playing very long, and guys that ended up having pretty good careers. I think with Kyle, what you see with him and what you like about him as a coaching staff is he listens. He wants to do it. There’s a lot of things that he’s done well for a guy that’s only played two years, but he knows he’s got a long way to go. He’s got to still develop a real feel for the game offensively. As he gets stronger, it’s going to change so much of how he plays. The fact is, he wants to be a good basketball player. He wants to be a great teammate, and he’s willing to put in the time that you have to do to not only do that, but be a good student, too. He takes it very seriously. Everything about Kyle Alexander, he takes very seriously.”

(On if he expected Kyle Alexander to develop so quickly)
“He’s probably helped us more than we probably wanted him to. We thought we would get some more out of some other guys on the front line that we haven’t. What he’s done, and the reason he’s played – it’s not like he’s been, you look at his numbers, overwhelming there – it’s just that he’s trying to do what we need done at that position. That’s what you like about him. He’s really trying to do the things we ask, that we think it’s going to take to win. Sometimes he gets over-matched physically, but I would say there’s no doubt, we think he’s got a terrific future. How much we thought he would play? We knew through the summer that he was going to play more than probably he might have thought, because we watched the way that he would run the floor and do things. We watched how much time he put in the gym. We watched him hit a wall, too, where it really just flooded him all at once, I think the grind of the summer, the academic side, everything. He’s bounced back pretty nicely. If you watch him on tape, I think what he’s tried to do is really put his thought process on the defensive end. We still tell him that we think he needs to be more competitive in terms of trying to score the ball, and want the ball and be a factor there. He’s trying, and we’re just all pleased to death that he’s a part of this program.”

(On if the Feb. 2 comeback win over Kentucky lit a fire under the Wildcats)
“I thought they were playing really good basketball coming in, before us. If you go back before that game, I made the comment. I thought they were starting to take on [John Calipari’s] personality and the way his teams play. They really take great advantage every time they have the ball. They’re not going to have too many empty possessions offensively. Defensively, I thought they were really starting to come into their own. I think you look at it in roles. I mentioned their roles, and I think that’s more so now than ever. I thought they were playing good defense coming in, too. I think they’ve done that extremely well. I do think that they’ve continued to mesh really well. The roles are even more defined now than when we played them, because I thought that they were coming into that. It’s impressive when you think about it. I don’t think Alex Poythress has played, what, two or three games now? It’s allowed other guys to do some things. I also think that you can’t say enough about a guy like Tyler [Ulis]. He’s terrific. I just love his competitive fire. As a group, they just seem to have a real belief in each other right now.”

(On needing greater consistency up and down the roster)
“You could go back and look at every game that we have played well and we had more than one or two people play (effectively). We need Admiral (Schofield) to be a factor; we need Robert Hubbs III to be a factor. We need those guys to score for us because we can’t put all of that on Kevin Punter Jr. He’s had to do a lot this year and he’s carried the weight for so long. I feel like Armani (Moore) has gotten himself into a good spot but we need Admiral to be the factor that he can be. We need Robert Hubbs and consistent play from Detrick (Mostella) and Devon Baulkman. We need those guys and to just know what we’re going to get from them every single night whether we’re home or on the road, but that’s just what we haven’t had.”

(On needing better ball movement on the offensive end)
“I think (the ball) sticks with certain guys. I’ve explained to our guys that we start the game (at Missouri) and have great execution on the first possession then Armani comes down and throws up a terrible shot. Then the play right after that, Shembari was open on the wing and took a three. When you’re going one-pass three’s early in the game, those guys have to be 45 percent 3-point shooters. We’re 10-1 when we get to the foul line more than our opponent. You can’t get to the foul line making plays like that. We want all guys to shoot the ball when they’re open and in the rhythm, but they have to understand the possession. They have to understand that any time a guy is open, you expect him to shoot it and sometimes when he might not be all the way open (but still shoot) is Kevin Punter. Everybody else, we should be working a little bit deeper into the clock. Sometimes those guys are open by design. But we can’t settle; we’ve done that too much. Some of that has to do with the fact that we have some young guys. Admiral has taken some quick early shots that I think kind of unsettles him a little bit. Shembari has gotten so much better and he’s trying to understand that we’re not telling him not to shoot the ball but we’re telling him that he has to pick his spots when he does shoot it. If you’re that open its maybe by a reason and plus he’s a guy that we know can get fouled, drive the ball and make some things happen. Sometimes that’s just youth, but we need Admiral and Robert Hubbs. Robert has a tendency that when the ball gets in his hands to hesitate but if he would just move more within the offense and let the offense work for him he’ll score better that way. Detrick (Mostella) is a guy who will take some tough shots at the wrong time. I’ve talked to Armani a lot about his threes and he’s going to have a chance to shoot threes all he wants to. He just has to be selective. When we’ve gone three or four possessions without scoring, he can’t settle at that point in time unless the shot clock is down. The concentration has to be there better; I think they always give effort. I just think our concentration and our basketball decisions have to be a lot better especially in the way that we’ve lost some of these games. ”

(On whether or not the players have a comfort level with his offensive schemes at this point in the season)
“At times, they are. Whether you would believe this or not, there’s still some guys that don’t quite see it they way they should Now, it’s a matter of making it work I think the majority of them understand what we’re trying to do. You’d still be surprised at how we talk about spacing. We still talk about it every game. We still talk about having to fight for your space on the floor, talking about setting your cuts up, hard cuts, scoring cuts, finishing your cuts. We still talk about it today as a staff. We’ve talked about how we’ve got to keep getting better. You need to continue to understand those type of things, and trust it and let it work. It’s such a fine line there… just space on the floor. If I showed you tape today, and showed you the difference of the guy getting to the corner, and a guy coming two feet short of that, and how it takes away the space that Kevin Punter needs. It’s those things. To be quite honest, some guys still don’t get it the way we need it to be. By now, we should have all of that. So, it goes back to them being totally committed to doing their job even if they don’t get the ball. So many guys don’t know how to play if they don’t have the ball in their hands. We’ve gotten better at that. Overall and defensively, we’ve gotten better. We’re not as consistent there as we need to be, but we are better there. It goes back to when the ball starts sticking, we really bog down.”


Kyle Alexander

(On his growth since the beginning of the season)
“I think I’ve definitely had my games where the coaches told me I’ve played well and definitely some games where I’ve had the coaches tell me there are some things I need to improve on. I haven’t been really consistent in the last couple months, so I’m just trying to work on being consistent and giving the team something they need every single night. But in terms of my progression, I think as long as I’m on the floor and I’m playing I think I’m always getting better.”

(On how his preseason expectations match his current role)
“I think, as a freshman, I didn’t really expect to much. You just kind of hope that you can make an impact on the team and just kind of contribute a little bit. But I think I’m definitely doing a lot more than I thought I could. You know, only playing basketball for two years I didn’t think that I could come in and have a major role on the team, but I’m liking how much I’m being able to contribute right now.”

(On if he and the other players hear Coach Barnes’ candid evaluations of them after games)
“I always hear it. It’s always good to hear what the coaches have to say after a game because you’re trying to improve. Getting good criticism, bad criticism from a coach after a game is almost like watching film. You get to hear what was going through (Coach Barnes’) mind right after the game, his honest thoughts. The coaches are always really honest with their opinions right after the games when it’s fresh in their minds. So I’m always listening to what (Coach Barnes) has to say and I’m always taking that into account when I go into the next game.”

(On becoming more of an offensive presence)
“I’m working right now on (becoming) a low-post presence, working on my shot around the basket. That’s where our team needs something right now is somebody they can throw the ball into on the inside. I’ve been making an impact defensively a little bit right now, so if I can add some on the offensive end I can really help contribute to the team a little bit more.”

(On if they can take anything from this season’s earlier win vs. Kentucky into Rupp Arena on Thursday)
“We came out with a win in that game and it was a great team win. Everybody was really hyped up about it and that does give us confidence because we know we can get the job done if we come out with the same energy that we did. And as long as we stay poised the whole game, I think we definitely have a chance — at least a good a chance as anybody else. We’ve definitely seen film (on Kentucky) from the last couple games and we noticed that they came out fighting and hitting hard with people. But I think that if we do the same thing we did last game that we could be surprised at what we do.”

(On UK’s loss at Tennessee ‘lit a fire under them’ over the past three games)
“I think that could have something to do with it.”

(On the confidence he’s gained after moving into the starting lineup)
“I think that it’s kind of shown me that the coaches have faith in me and have faith in my abilities and what I can be and in what I’m doing right now. So I just have to keep working not to let them down. (I’ve been) trying to stay in the gym and just make sure I come out every game with the mindset that I need to do something special so that the coaches don’t lose their trust in me.”

(On his relationship with Kentucky’s Jamal Murray, a former AAU teammate and prep school roommate)
“Living with someone for two years, seeing them every single minute of every day, sometimes every single day for seven weeks straight when you’re traveling every weekend, you learn a lot about someone. He’s like a brother to me. It was different the first time we played with him being on an opposite team as me. It was a different experience, but we both loved it. We talked after the game, we talked before the game. I’m looking forward to playing him again.”

(On his learning curve under Coach Barnes while having only two years of basketball experience under his belt)
“(The coaches) have done a great job of helping me this whole time. Since they day I got here they’ve told me what they expect from me, they told me what they want from me, and they’re really helping me and pushing me along the way. I don’t have a big role on the team right now. I just need to do what I’ve got to do.”

(On looking to the future with fellow freshmen Admiral Schofield and Shembari Phillips)
“It’s really exciting to think about what the future can hold for our team. We have a great recruiting class coming in. (Coach Barnes) did a great job with the recruiting and everybody on our team right now that is going to be coming back next year is doing a great job developing their skills. Admiral has been really impressive, Shembari in the last couple games has done a great job playing his position. So I think that next year we could do something really special.”

(On how he’s adjusted to living to East Tennessee from Canada)
“I love it here, to be honest with you. In the summer it took a while for me to adjust going through the weather adjustment from Canada back to here, but everybody here is treating me well. So it wasn’t a big adjustment.”

Grant Ramey covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at twitter.com/GrantRamey