Transcript: Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer Media Availability

Keon Johnson & Jaden Springer – Vols freshmen / Credit: UT Athletics

On Thursday afternoon, the Tennessee basketball freshmen tandem of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer sat down with the media over Zoom to discuss the offseason and the upcoming start to the 2020-21 season.

Keon Johnson
On how prepared he feels to be a contributor from day one:
“I feel extremely prepared. The coaching staff has done a great job of helping prepare me for the upcoming season and helping me with different tasks to help me get better each and every day.”

On what his biggest adjustment to the college game has been:
“The biggest adjustment for me has been my time management. Being able to balance my time with both ball and school, while being able to get extra shots up in the gym, whether it’s late at night or before practice.”

On what his best position is on the floor:
“I feel like I can play the one, the two or the three. I don’t really feel like it matters. I feel like it really depends on the game as to where I would be playing. In terms of where coach wants to put me, I don’t really have a problem with that.”

On his transition to Rocky Top:
“Coming into Rocky Top, I feel like it’s been a great experience for me. I feel like with COVID still being around, it’s been a bit of a win/lose situation. On the plus there aren’t too many people around and there aren’t too many distractions, but on the flip side, having fans come out to our games is a huge part of it as well.”

On what it’s been like being coached by Coach Barnes:
“It’s been an adjustment, but I was also ready for it as well. I knew coming in from day one, what type of coach he was and just knowing what type of person he is has helped me become better as a player.”

On if there was one moment where Coach Barnes came at him and it may have shocked him:
“It was actually our first summer practice. Coach Barnes went after everyone that day and he finally came around to me, I was just like, ‘Alright, it’s my turn now.'”

On what aspect of his game will help the team the most this season:
“I feel like my speed is what will help the team the most this year. Me being able to get a rebound and push the ball and me being able to lead the break is what sets me apart.”

On biggest difference between what he thought college would be like vs. what it’s actually like because of COVID:
“I feel like the first few months normally would have had a lot more practices and us being around each other a lot more often. But I feel like us as a team with COVID being around, we didn’t get that opportunity to be around each other as much as we normally would.”

On how much excitement there is to get going, because of the optimism surrounding the program:
“I really haven’t looked that much into rankings and stuff like that. I feel like everyone on the team has a chip on their shoulder, everyone on the team his humble and we’re all ready to work.”

On how the returning guards on the team have helped him since he got to Tennessee:
“They’ve helped me in so many ways. All of us look out for each other and we all want the best for each other. That’s really the leadership we have with each other. We all want each other to be the best we can be.”

On why everyone has a chip on their shoulders:
“I feel like everyone has that character that we all want to compete, get better each and every day and make names for ourselves. Being at the University of Tennessee is part of it I feel like, in that if you work hard then there’s always a reward that will come from it.”

On what makes him a really good defensive player:
“I feel like my grit and my will to want to play defense, to want to lock another opponent down and being able to have that type of heart with myself on the defensive side of the ball.”

On how he goes about judging where he’ll be able to make his biggest contribution:
“I feel like it always starts on the defensive end. If you can defend, then you can find your way onto the court. I don’t think it’s been that much of a struggle for me to find my spots or to find where I fit in. But, it’s also been a learning experience for me knowing that I have to find my strengths and my weaknesses.”

On what the biggest learning moment and experience he’s had so far:
“Me learning the point guard position. I’ve always been the leader on the team, but I’ve never been the leader on the team from the point guard position trying to construct the offense to get everyone in their spots.”

On if playing point guard is something he’s always done, or something he’s been asked to do since coming to Tennessee:
“It’s been something I’ve been asked to do since I’ve gotten here, but I haven’t run away from the task. It’s been a great way for me to learn and if that’s what it takes for me to learn, then I’m willing to do that.”

On what the transition to college life has been like:
“I love the college lifestyle. I think it’s very similar to the lifestyle of being a pro minus the school part. Each and every day is a day for me to learn. I feel like every day I need to come in ready to work and there will be a beneficial outcome in the end.”

On who he’s learned the most from that’s a leader on the team:
Yves Pons.”

On when playing defense well became a priority for him:
“From a very early age my parents always told me that playing defense is just as much a part of the game as offense is and you have to be able to play both sides. So, having that taught to me at a very early age has led on to me now and has made me the player that I am today.”

On what its like watching Yves on the defensive end:
“I love being on the court with him. We’re both gritty on the defensive end and knowing that you have his type of help and athleticism on your back side is very rewarding.”

On who the hardest player on the team is to guard:
“For me personally I feel like Santi Vescovi is the hardest guy for me to guard, because I’ve never had a to guard a guy that plays the way that he does. He’s very fundamental and he doesn’t get to outside of himself to get other guys into their spots.”

On what the best part of his offensive game is:
“The best part of my offensive game I feel like is my ability to rise up above defenders and shoot a jump shot, as well as my ability to post up smaller defenders on me and go into to get a basket.”

On how playing the point guard position has helped him to better understand the offense:
“Playing the point guard position has helped me learn the offense a lot faster and not only learn the offense, but learn multiple spots in the offense, because I know that I’ll be playing more than on position on the floor.”

On what his relationship with Jaden is like:
“First off, we’re roommates, so we always look after each other and we both want the best for each other. So, whether we’re in practice going after each other—sometimes we’ll be on opposite sides of each other and we have to guard each other as if we’re not on the same team. At the end of the day though we’re still teammates and we push each other to work harder and to be the best we can be.”

On if he has a sense of urgency to make the most of his time at Tennessee:
“It doesn’t really create a sense of urgency for me. I’m here to do one thing and that’s to play basketball as well as get my education and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get the best out of both.”

On how excited he is to play at home at TBA:
“I’m very excited to play in Thompson-Boling. Without the fans it’ll be a little bit different than what I’ve seen coming in, but being able to step on the court and play a game of basketball will be a lot of fun, especially playing in TBA.”

On him a Jaden competing off the court:
“We play video games every now and then when we get a chance, but that’s all just fun and games.”

On what video game they play the most and who wins:
“We play Madden a lot and he’s beaten me pretty much every time we’ve played.”

On how Mark Griffin helped him and what his biggest contribution to his game was:
“His contribution to me was just having passion for the game. He was never pushy towards which side I should lean on, but he’s always kept things up front with me. He’s never been on the downside and just his honesty has gone a long way with me and my family.”

On how much he’s improved since going against talented players in practice:
“From the first day that I got here, I feel like I’ve improved a lot. Whether it’s on the defensive end, or just on offense getting my shot to where it’s supposed to be.”

On if he looks forward to playing in the big games on the schedule:
“I look forward to playing every game. I play every game as if it’s my last. I don’t really look too far ahead in terms of opponents, but on the court, I’ll compete no matter what.”

Jaden Springer
On how he trained and prepared to be ready to play this season:
“The biggest thing from high school to college is probably the speed of the game. So, the biggest thing I’ve been working on is conditioning and trying to get in the best shape possible.”

On if he is excited to play in Thompson Boling in two weeks:
“This has been one of my dreams since I was a little kid, being able to play in a big arena like this at a great school like Tennessee. So, being able to go out there with my teammates and finally have my first college experience, I’m looking forward to it.”

On how different his experience has been as a Freshman due to COVID:
“Because of COVID, that’s something that impacted not just me. It impacted all college athletes. I feel like we’re one of the more fortunate schools, because it didn’t hit us too hard. So, we still got to come in here over the summer and got work in as a team, and we got after it every day since then.”

On his relationship with Keon Johnson:
“We’re roommates, so we’re with each other almost every day. Being able to hang around him and getting to know him more than I did before, that’s something pretty big, because we compete on the court and chill with each other off the court. Like he said, we play Madden, so it’s just a good relationship.”

On if Keon Johnson has surprised him with his ability:
“I’ve known Keon [Johnson] for a minute now. We played with each other in AAU back in eighth grade. In practice, he definitely does surprise me sometimes, because he’s a great talent. He’s high-jumping and stuff like that. Being able to watch him is fun.”

On which was a bigger adjustment from high school—Speed of the game or learning the Tennessee system:
“Pretty much it can go both ways. From high school to college is definitely a big difference with the speed and the pace of the game. Also, when you come to college you have to learn the new stuff—new offenses. You really start to build your IQ for the game, so that’s definitely a big help.”

On how impressed he is with the talent surrounding him:
“Yves [Pons], Fulky [John Fulkerson], pretty much everybody on the team is really skilled, so being able to compete with them every day is definitely going to make you better.”

On how he would describe his offensive game:
“I feel like I can create for my teammates. I can drive, and I can attack space and really open things up for me and everybody else that’s on the court with me.”

On how much IMG prepared him to play in college:
“being able to go to a school like IMG and being able to play with other top talented guys is definitely a big help. You’re used to having other people you can count on and not having to do everything by yourself. So that’s definitely helped me with this transition so far.”

On what sets him apart from other guards:
“I feel like on the defensive end I can get down and lock up on defense. On the offensive end, I can score the ball and create open shots for my teammates. I feel like I’m pretty good on both sides of the ball.”

On how he figured out his role as a 5-star recruit coming in:
“You really just have to look at everyone else around you, see how they play, and figure out what you can do to come on the court and help to make the team better. You just have to look to lift the team and not do anything to bring anybody down.”

On if he feels like it’s different for guys to have a defensive mindset coming into college:
“I don’t really know how everybody else thinks, but for me, I’ve always been one to want to play defense and not let the other team score or let anybody get easy free points on you. That’s just really always been my mindset.”

On what impact he hopes to have on the team this season:
“I definitely want to be able to get out there and compete with the team and be able to help the team win games, and just give it my all every time I step on the court.”

On if there is a teammate he looks up to and has helped him with his development:
“There’s been a few guys on the team that have helped me through practice and through anything we’ve been going through. I could say Ticket (Davonte Gaines), Josiah [Jordan-James], Fulky [Fulkerson], Yves [Pons]. Those guys are talking to me and letting me know what to do and what I should’ve done. Being able to have teammates like that is definitely going to help me become a better and smarter basketball player.”

On how much time he has spent playing point guard during practice:
“Last year at IMG definitely helped me and being able to come here I can take that to another level now being with coach Barnes. He’s big on the point guard spot. Being able to get those reps in practice and when we scrimmage and get up and down, that’s definitely a big help for whenever the game comes around.”

On who is the better defender, Keon Johnson or himself:
“That’s not really up for me to say, but we both can get after it, and we’re both dogs on defense.”

On if he thinks the competition with Keon Johnson makes him better:
“I don’t really think we look at it and see who’s better than who, but we know that we can both go out there and compete and get the job done on defense.”

On what it’s like to be coached by Rick Barnes:
“Coach Barnes really knows the game of basketball. I’ve never had a coach like him, so being able to play under him and keep learning the game from what he’s showing us is definitely a big thing for me.”

On how he feels about the chemistry among the guards:
“I’ve been around these guys every day, so I know how good they are. I can go out there and play with each one of them. I feel like we all know each other pretty well by this point.”

On if he has had a moment where Coach Barnes coached him up:
“I feel like everybody on the team gets those. You know it’s coming. You know you messed up when you should’ve done something else on a certain play. You’ve got to get prepared for it. Don’t take it for the way he’s saying it. You’ve got to listen to what he’s actually saying.”

On what its been like trying to navigate through college so far:
“It’s been pretty good for me, because we’ve got a great staff. They really help us out with finding out where we need to go or what we need to do and all the stuff we need to get done.”

On his aspirations for the year:
“I wouldn’t say championship or bust, but I feel like with the talent we have and the team we have, we could definitely take it all the way if we play up to what we’re supposed to.”

On Corey Walker:
“That’s another one of me and Keon’s roommates. He’s with us every day too, so we’ve seen him grow since we first got here. The main thing with him is probably his size. He can move. He can play from the two, the three, the four even. He’s a guy that can pretty much do it all.”

On if he was worried the season wouldn’t happen:
“Early in this year that was something I was worried about but seeing how things are going now I feel like we’re getting a lot better. There’s more precautions that we can do to be able to keep playing while COVID is going on.”

-UT Athletics

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