Rick Barnes Press Conference — Monday, Feb. 29


(On what he saw from the three freshmen starters on Saturday vs. Arkansas)
“I think they have gotten better, but I still think there is a step that they each need to take. I didn’t think our guards played particularly well. Shembari (Phillips) is learning a lot, but what we want from all three of the freshmen is consistency. Shembari didn’t have a very good defensive game, and I thought he let some offense interfere with where his mindset was defensively. Admiral (Schofield) struggles at times defensively. We did throw the ball inside some to start the game. We want him to be a little more aggressive when going to the basket. We know he can catch the ball and score and face it up some, but we wanted him to drive some more to put fouls on Arkansas’ post players. Kyle (Alexander) just needs to get playing quicker in his mind. We keep telling him that there is another step he needs to take, and that step is in his mind and playing quicker. He is just not ready. As hard as he works, he has to change his thought process in terms of wanting to score the basketball. He works really hard at trying to score with the skill work, but he hasn’t been able to carry it over to the court yet.”

(On if he’s ever experienced this much difficulty winning on the road)
“It’s always hard. It’s hard. It’s been hard. I think it does go in cycles a little bit. You go back and look, every team feels like they have to win at home. I think they feel that. If you’re a championship caliber team, you understand that and you have to embrace the fact that when you go on the road, you’ve got to play harder. There’s not very much room for error. Maybe you can get by with it a little bit at home, slippage, but you can’t on the road. Momentum plays a big part of it. If you allow the crowd to get into the game, emotion can take over at times and really spur on a team that might be under-manned. You’ve got to really work hard to keep a lot of factors. Like I’ve said before, when things are really balanced and you go into hostile situations, you’ve got to have good officials. They’ve got to be on, too. This league in particular, I don’t what to make of it to be honest with you. It’s the first time that I’ve gone through it, and I’m a little bit surprised by that. I probably shouldn’t say that because I don’t what I expected, but the way the numbers have shaken out, I think it is a little bit surprising. You probably know more so than me with it. It seems like if you look around the country, it seems like teams other places are having a tough time winning on the road, too.”

(On Kevin Punter and Robert Hubbs III’s chance of playing at Vanderbilt)
“I don’t think KP will play tomorrow. Obviously, Robert will be today and tomorrow, as we see how he keeps responding to his treatment.”

(On what the team can do differently against Vanderbilt)
“The game here at Vandy was, I still think the worst game that we’ve played all year, and they had a lot to do with that. It looks like they’re playing arguably the best basketball in the league right now. It looks like, too, that they’ve kind of cut back their bench. I think they’re playing what, four or five guys over 30 minutes a game right now? They’ve obviously gotten themselves in a pretty good rotation right here that they’re comfortable with. We’ll have to do a lot of things differently. I was talking to our coaches this morning about the game, and I don’t think there’s much we can show them from our game here that we did well, or even show that we can take advantage of something. They really just had their way from the very beginning.”

(On balancing winning and playing time for the younger players)
“Because of injuries, those young guys have had a chance to play. When you think of Robert [Hubbs] not playing at all in the Arkansas game, they’ve all gotten some quality minutes. I think what they’re going to learn, or what they should be learning right now is how hard it is to do this for a long period of time. You think back, and I actually mentioned it to them the other day. I said, `All you guys dream of wanting to play in the NBA, and you act like you’re tired right now. When you think about it, they’re just halfway through their season right now. They’re just getting started.’

“It’s a mindset that you keep trying to build with them, to let them know that it is a grind. They have to get up every day and realize that they’ve got a job to do, and they’ve got to learn from it. Like I said, our young guys have worked hard. You guys have been at practice. I don’t know if you’ve stayed late, but at the end of practice every day, it’s like clockwork. The last guys to leave practice court are Lamonte [Turner], Kyle [Alexander] and Admiral [Schofield]. For certain, those three guys. We’re trying to get Shembari [Phillips] to understand that too, that he’s got to be in there. Those other three guys, along with the walk-ons, they’re out there long past practice is over with. That’s what we want to see. Going forward, that’s going to be a great help for us when this new group comes in, that they’ll understand that there’s an almost expectation of hard work that’s in place.”

(On coaching from the baseline at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym)
“I have, I think I’ve been there. I coached there while I was at Providence. We lost a tough game against Virginia, way back on a last second shot, if I remember it right. It’s different, but it’s not that much different because in practice I kind of coach from that angle. I’m normally behind the team, especially when we’re in half court situation. I’m usually behind them or at half court, or on the baseline. So, I don’t think it will be that big of an adjustment. I just thought about a tough issue is where coaches can’t call a timeout. You think about the end of the game, that’s a bit of a disadvantage if the team is away from you and you need to do that. It’s hard to get their attention, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

(On Robert Hubbs III’s injury)
“At some point in time, I think in the South Carolina game, he bumped knees with somebody. When you are inside around the basket and a shot goes up, guys are backing out. I think that is what happened. He felt like something hit it. I think it is more of a bruise than anything else. I don’t think it is anything from a mechanical point. It is just a bruise, probably.”

(On most frustrating aspect of the season)
“I probably have dealt more with my own personal frustrations and patience in the last couple weeks because, you know what, you look back and see the what-ifs. This, that or whatever. Overall, I do know this group of guys have played and tried really hard. You always want to continue–losing is not very much fun. It’s not. I have always wanted to enjoy this time of year knowing that you are playing for something and being up for a postseason bid and getting excited about all of that. What was disappointing in the game Saturday–and we told this to our team–is that we felt with Robert (Hubbs III) not playing, (they) were just holding on. That is not fun coaching. Even as we said at the beginning of the year, there will be every game we played where we look back and see that if we took care of the things we can control, we would win games. There was no difference Saturday. That is what we talked about yesterday with our team. The things that we are doing wrong we can still control. But, we have to do it. We ran out of time in the regular season because we’re still talking about guys still doing the things that they should be doing–being consistent going to the offensive boards, being consistent defending, being in help position. The things that truly can be controlled. That is where patience and frustration get tried. The fact is we knew it wouldn’t be easy. You want to see it more, especially from the older guys. Like I told our young guys yesterday, they are not young anymore. They are closer to being sophomores than they are freshmen. Nowadays, sophomores are sometimes considered pretty old with all the people that leave early. That is the tough part of it. If you love what you do, you want to win. I don’t care if people think the deck is stacked against you or not. We have seen enough this year with this team that if we get everyone playing the way they need to play, just like you go back to the game Saturday with Hubbs not playing, we needed some other guys to really step up to a different role and take it on. We didn’t get that.”

(On if Armani Moore’s uptick in scoring is a direct result of Kevin Punter Jr. being sidelined)
“No, I think he’s tried to set an aggressive tone. I can’t think how many times we tell guys you have to take your shots. We do what we do and we try to point out to guys the shots that we know they need to take and get them to take the shots they should take. When they don’t do it, he’s even forced in some games here where he’s taking shots that he doesn’t really want to take. He wants to see his teammates. He did a great job Saturday changing up stuff himself. I told him right before the game started `You’re going to have to control this game for us, and we’re going to have to play at the pace that you need to play at because you’re going to have to play as many minutes as you can play. So you’re going to have to pick and chose when you go with it, but you’re really going to have to get us settled in and see what we can do.’ I thought he did a really good job. Then, he got frustrated because he made a couple passes that were terrific passes, but on the ball screen situation, Admiral (Schofield) should have rolled and he stood there. He threw a pass to Kyle (Alexander) where Kyle wasn’t ready. He threw a pass to (Derek) Reese; he had a dunk and wasn’t ready. So, I think when those things happen, he starts he’s just trying to set a tone, but he was definitely trying to set those guys up and they weren’t ready to handle that.

(On if freshmen Kyle Alexander, Shembari Phillips, and Admiral Schofield have bigger roles than he initially envisioned at the start of the season)
“Well, they’ve had a bigger role because we really thought that we would get a lot more of the seniors as a group and Robert Hubbs. I mean, that’s what we thought going in. That was our big concern. We weren’t sure exactly when Kyle or Shembari or Admiral would play. We didn’t know. Going in, we expected Armani (Moore) and Kevin (Punter) to play roles. We expected a lot from Robert Hubbs, a lot from Devin Baulkman, a lot from Derek Reese. We weren’t sure with Detrick either. Those guys have played more so because other than Armani and Kevin, the other guys have been so inconsistent.”

(On the next step for key freshmen players)
“I told Shembari (Phillips) this yesterday. You know, he had moments where he wants to compete, but he didn’t play hard Saturday. The next step is understanding that you have to keep pushing forward. Even when you think you are there, you have to keep going. That’s typical of a young guy who starts getting a little bit of success, and starts feeling good about himself, and doesn’t prepare himself for the game. We specifically talked about before the game the way you get engaged in the game and our whole thought was to lock in defensively against Arkansas. He didn’t do that from the beginning. Young guys still have a tendency to think that if they score a basket or get a dunk or make a three, because that’s what fans identify with. Coaches identify with all of the things within the game. They help you win. The next step is them identifying with that and making it important to themselves. Kyle (Alexander) is the one that has embraced that one side of it because I think in his mind, he knows he can do that. Kyle doesn’t have the confidence yet to feel like he’s going to score a lot. Admiral (Schofield) on the other hand, he and Shembari both, still put their identity in what they do on the offensive end. They need to flip that.”

(On what is impressive about Vanderbilt)
“The inside-outside combination, they’ve got length that they take advantage of inside and they’ve got players who can play over the top of us. They have the ability, as we know, they’ll make a bunch of threes on you. You know, you love it when you’ve got that kind of combination. That’s something that every team, every coach would like to have, that inside-outside presence.”

(On if Tennessee’s rotation will change at all at Vanderbilt)
“You know what, I don’t know if we can change anything up because, again, foul trouble. We are who we are right now, we have who we have. We’ll have to go into the game and we need everyone to play and be engaged. And again, I’ve been doing it long enough to know that who knows what could happen in practice today? But I don’t think at this point in time there’s a lot of changes that we need to make. I mean, everybody’s played. Everybody but I think Ray (Kasongo) has started a game this year. So, we need to know what we’re going to get, more so from a defensive and competitive side more than just changes to make changes. If you ask me that question, I know Armani (Moore) is going to compete, I know he is. I would tell the other guys the same thing. He’s the one guy I know who’s going to do that. I like to say I know a bunch of other guys might. I’d like to see Shembari (Phillips) come back and compete because he’s proven that he can, he’s just hasn’t been consistent with it. We’ve all proven it that they can compete, but we just haven’t had enough guys be as consistent as they have to be with it. This time of year, that shouldn’t be an issue, but it really still is. We’re a team, where if we don’t compete, we’re not going to have much of a chance. Because we have to do that. At a very, very high level.”

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