Rick Barnes, Tennessee’s new coach, won’t need any introductions when the SEC men’s basketball coaches convene at the annual SEC spring meetings in Destin. He’s new but will feel like one of the gang. Which of his 13 new colleagues does he already know? It’s more which ones doesn’t he know.
“John Calipari and I go way back,” Barnes said Wednesday at his introduction to the Big Orange Tipoff Club. “We’ve always been friends. He was one of the guys who called me and said, ‘You’ve got to come to Tennessee. It’s a great job.”’
Barnes met Cal around 1977 when they worked a camp at Pittsburgh. They’ve stayed in touch over the years.
Billy Donovan might not be around at Destin. Looks like he’s got one foot out the door at Florida to the NBA. But being a recent Providence College alum, Donovan was around when Barnes coached the Friars from 1988-94.
He knows new Mississippi State coach Ben Howland from Howland’s UCLA days. Barnes’ son was good friends with the nephew of LSU’s Johhny Jones. Barnes coached against South Carolina’s Frank Martin, Texas A&M’s Billy Kennedy and Arkansas’ Mike Anderson when they were in the Big 12.
Years ago as a young assistant at Alabama, he tried to recruit hot prospect Andy Kennedy to Tuscaloosa. Speaking of Alabama, new coach Avery Johnson and Barnes crossed paths while Johnson was in Texas, playing for the San Antonio Spurs and coaching the Dallas Mavericks.
“I’ve known Bruce Pearl a long time,” Barnes said. Pearl beat Barnes 2 out of 3 as Tennessee’s coach.
He also said he’s coached against Georgia’s Mark Fox.