Transcript: Rick Barnes and two new assistants, Justin Gainey and Rod Clark, availability

Vols HC Rick Barnes / Credit: UT Athletics

On how much work has gone into the past few weeks with the roster and coaching staff: 

“Obviously, we’re excited about Coach (Kim) English and Coach (Desmond) Oliver getting the chance to be head coaches. That’s something that those guys have worked for many years. For them to get the opportunity that they had, everyone involved is excited about that. We’re excited about how things worked out for us through our recruiting and the fact that we knew and felt that with the transfer portal being there, it would give some guys in the program that hadn’t had the opportunity to play as much as they would like to pursue other options. A lot of credit goes to the work that the previous staff had done, certainly with the addition of Coach (Justin) Gainey and Rod (Clark), it’s been a great thing. It’s been a really smooth transition in some ways, because once we got into the search looking for a new staff, we pretty much had an idea of where we wanted to go early. We’re fortunate and blessed that it worked out the way it has.”

On the current build of the roster and the two remaining roster spots:

“We’re excited, we really are. We’re more than excited because we just feel like the needs we felt like we needed to address, we addressed. The thing that’s exciting, too, is that we had a good spring. We didn’t have one a year ago. The guys in the program that remained, I thought had a really good spring. We’ve always felt that the real improvement comes from within. With those guys coming back, it’s going to give us some experience and more than just two guys, like we had going into last year. The spring was good for us and again, we didn’t have one of those last year at this time. Then, we’re really excited, obviously about the younger guys that we have coming in and have pretty much been able to do it the old-fashioned way, with the exception of one person coming through the transfer portal. We’ve been recruiting high school players. We have those two scholarships and like always, we’re always recruiting and always evaluating. As of now, we’re not planning on doing anything. Again, it could change because of the transfer portal and just day-to-day now, I think the biggest thing now is that you have to be in position to manage the roster. I’ve said to you guys, we don’t ever stop recruiting. We’re already down the road. It would have to be something really special for us to add to what we have right now.”

On if he expects any more attrition from the roster:

“We don’t think so. The guys that were here in the spring, most of them have left campus now. They had a great spring and they’ve all indicated how excited they are to be back here in a month and get into our summer workout program. With that said, we don’t.”

On if he has every dealt with this many new pieces, between roster and coaching staff:

“Have we had it before? Yes, I’ve dealt with it. We had gotten down one time where we only had four players in our program at Texas and only one of them had played significant minutes. We had lost some coaches too. One, starting with our staff, I’ve been so impressed with coach Gainey and coach Clark. The chemistry between them and the players is evident already. They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. They know what they need to do. You guys know us here, we’re all in it together. They’ve made that adjustment quickly. In terms of the relationship that we all expect to have, the coach-player relationship, that will only grow more and more. What we always count on when we have guys coming back is to help lead these young guys, show them the way and get them up to the speed that it takes to compete at this level. It will take everyone involved with our staff – everyone. We really do try to pride ourselves in the player-coach relationship. I’ve also said that works both ways. We just feel good about these guys. Every one of them have indicated to us how they’re excited about getting here and wanting to get started right away. That’s something that we’re looking forward to because we didn’t get to do that last year in June. It was exciting to be back in the gym for a couple of weeks and for a couple of workouts with the players that are coming back. We expect those guys to have a big part in this, in terms of helping get these guys acclimated to the program and the way we do things. It’s a fun time right now. When you have turnover, you bring in new guys that bring some different thoughts and ideas that you talk about. We’re always going to do everything that we can to make our program better every day. We talk to our players about getting better every day. I think as a coaching staff, we feel the same way. We’ve got to continue to figure out how we can improve as a staff. This team will be different. It will be a much different team than we’ve had in a while. It’s a long team. We feel like we’ve got a lot of different weapons that we’re going to be able to use that we’re excited about.”

On this team being better built than other years:

“Every year you’re trying to put together the best group that you could put together. Hope that things work out. I go back to the time we had a year ago where we did not understand what COVID would do to all of us involved. It was really tough watching John going through the year that he went through this past year. Those things that happened that you have no control over is tough to watch. That’s why we’re excited about him coming back. The other guys that play big minutes. Every year, you look at your team and you’re willing to make adjustments. You have to adjust to your personnel. I never believed in having a system. We try to recruit what we do, but sometimes you get guys that surprise you. They can do more or sometimes not as much as you might think. There is an adjustment period. The way this team is built, I like to think that we’re going to be able to rebound the ball better because we’re going to be bigger. We’ll shoot better. More importantly, the fact that we can get back to our normal year. Where we’re going to be able to do the things that we have done in the past where we can continue to get better each day.”

On his thoughts on Justin Powell and Santiago Vescovi’s game:

“There are some differences there. Justin has proven that he can play the point if he has to. He’s a guy that I think is really terrific at coming offscreen, creating an offense where he moves without the ball. He’s going to be great at that. He will not only score on that play, but create some offense, too. With his size, he has a huge advantage. Justin does have the versatility. Santiago does as well, but Justin is bigger. Santiago is a guy that feels better when he has the ball, playing with it, and getting different actions in that way. We like guys that come offscreen, catch the ball, and score it. Justin is going to be really good at that for us.”

On how important it is to adapt to the new reality of this college basketball:

“It is reality. The fact is, I don’t think we have a choice but to adapt to it. At the end of the year, we talk about the players and the ones that are looking for more opportunities to play. They want to play more. The transfer portable is there for them to do that. We will be better from the coaches’ standpoint because you can manage your roster. You want to start building and putting things together. I know the guys that we’ve lost have gone to places. They’re good people and we enjoyed having them in their program. More importantly, we want them to have a chance to play more. If they felt as they did, that it would be best for them to go somewhere else and find that opportunity, that’s what it’s there for. On the other hand, when guys go into the portal and we think they’re good enough to come here and help us fill a need, it goes both ways. Players can use it. Coaches can use it. But the reality is it’s here. You have to adapt to it.”

On the kind of assistants he’s hiring or developing:

“I think it’s them. I’ve always wanted to hire guys that want to be head coaches. Guys that are qualified. Guys that work at the profession and understand that there’s a right and wrong way to do it. So much of that is in place before they get here. We really do work hard in terms of vetting guys when we bring them here. Almost every guy that we’ve hired, some way, somehow, I’ve had a relationship or knew them from somebody that had a really good relationship with them. Almost everyone to the man, they’re better than advertised. I think the same thing with coach Gainey and coach Clark. I believe that when you get around people, are with them on a daily basis, and in conversation, you’re not sure or you want to be sure as you can when you make the hire. The guys that we’ve brought with us is a compliment to them. The way they’ve been attacking the profession. The way they’ve had their sight being head coach. The fact that they’ve done things the right way. It’s a compliment to them but it’s also a compliment to our program. They’ve been able to come in. I like to think that they’ve been able to learn some things while they’re here. It goes back to our hiring. We feel like we have an incredible opportunity here for all of us, including myself. Having a chance to be associated and work for the University of Tennessee is a great opportunity. Just like I knew it, I think assistant coaches out there understand that it is a great place to be. What goes on here, they’ll have a chance if that’s their goal. We hire guys that want to be head coaches. The better they are, the better we are.”

On how much did he help Fulkerson with his decision:

“We gave Fulky space. We let it be known that we wanted him back and that he’s welcomed here. He’ll always have a spot here if that’s what he wanted to do. We felt like he just had to get it right on his own. I think he did it the right way. He came in the gym with us once we went back to our spring workout. He came in, he didn’t do any contact work with us because he was still under the concussion protocol. But he was in there everyday as well as on his own. He needed the space and we gave him the space. We didn’t have a time table or anything like that with him. He thought long and hard about it. I do think that he wants to come back and go out on his terms. He’s been such a big part of our program since he’s been here. In so many different ways. He’s endured a lot. With that said, will we count on him to lead the way? Absolutely. He knows us better than anybody. He’s gotten better every year in so many different areas. I do know that the guys were all really excited seeing him in the gym with them this spring. The fact that they felt like he wanted to be back and be a part of it really gave us a smile on their face. We also know that how it ended was a really tough way. We’re excited for him. He’s going to come back in a big way.”

On the process of Brandon Huntley-Hatfield moving up a year:

“He has talked about it for quite some time. We’ve been recruiting Brandon for a long time. As a chance to be a terrific player as we all know. What I love about him is that he did take his time and thought into it. Wheels were in motion a couple months ago where he might be a possibility. He knows it’s going to be a challenge for him and yet he’s embraced it. He did his due diligence. In terms of talking to players and wondering what it was going to be like coming in a year early. With all that said and done, we’re excited for him. He thought long and hard about it. He going to come in and get a chance to go against some good players. He has set some very high standards for himself. The one thing I love about him is how he kept talking to me about how much he wanted to be coached. How much better he wanted to be. For a young man to class up like that, it says a lot about him. We’re excited because we know he has a chance to be a terrific player.”

On the additions of Jonas Aidoo and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield affecting John Fulkerson:

“After six years, we’re thinking of playing him at the point. We think that he has got it figured out that he can play any of those spots. He won’t have to stay down there as much as he have in the past. That was a tough thing for him. It was obvious that their deal was to beat him up. Just body him up wherever he was. He weighed whatever it would take and physically he did. He was getting pounded on it. I think the fact that he’ll be able to go back to playing in a way that he played for the most part of his three years here.”

On associate head coach Michael Schwartz coming back to Tennessee rather than pursuing other opportunities:

“It’s big. He had opportunities and he put a lot of thought into it, but he felt like at the time it was best to come back here. That’s huge because he helped a lot with hiring both Justin and Rod. Mike is a huge, huge part of this program as you guys know. He’s definitely going to get more opportunities, believe me he’s as good as we’ve ever had. I really respect him in the fact that he knows that he has to wait for the exact right one that fits him. But it was huge at that point in time, because as you guys continue to get to know Justin and Rod, you’re going to find out what Mike found out before me before I even got into the conversation with them. It’s always been important to me that the coaches develop a relationship right off the bat, and Mike through this process told me that when I talked to both of them, I was going to hit it off with them. From the time they walked on campus, we knew once they stepped foot in our facility that they were the right guys. Mike had a lot to do with that and he’s had a lot to do with our program since he’s been here. It’s one thing losing maybe one or two guys, but when you think about losing three guys, that was a time in my mind where I was scrambling a lot because I was thinking, ‘we can do this, this or this.’ Even though we do keep a short list, it was huge for me personally that Mike decided to stay with us.”

Justin Gainey Transcript

On what it was about Tennessee that made him want to be a part of this program:

“Being from North Carolina, I’ve always kept Tennessee in my vision. You always hear about the program and how great it is. This is a special place and I know a couple of people that have worked here before and they’ve always had great things to say about it. So, when the opportunity presented itself, it was really a no brainer. To work with a legendary, Hall of Fame coach at this great program was really just an easy call for me.”

On what his perception of the culture of UT basketball is and how he thinks he fits:

“I love coach. I love how he runs his program. He does it the right way. He doesn’t cut corners, doesn’t play in the gray area and he’s always respectful of his players. He treats his players well, while also challenging them, pushing them and motivating them. For me, that’s what I’m all about. That’s what I’m looking for as I’m recruiting players and that’s what I look to do myself as a coach. So, being able to witness how coach does things and to hear how he runs his program and to actually be here is definitely a special deal.”

On when his relationship with coach Barnes started:

“I don’t know how much we talked, but when I was at NC State as a player, coach was at Clemson for two years. We had some battles back then and he had some great and really good teams down there. So, I would say that our relationship goes back to then. As the years have gone, we haven’t been that in touch, but we know a lot of the same people. Like, the most or second most influential basketball person in my life, coach Freddy Johnson, who’s the head coach at Greensboro Day School he and coach Barnes’ relationship goes back to when coach was just getting going at Davidson College. So, they have a relationship and friendship. The guy that I played for at NC State, Herb Sednek, also worked for coach Barnes at Providence and I worked under coach Sednek for a season at Santa Clara. So, in an indirect way I have really connected with and gotten close with some people that are in his life and he’s really close as well.”

On how excited he is to work with Kennedy Chandler:

“The opportunity to work with Kennedy Chandler is something I’m excited for. I’ve watched him from a distance and I’m a guy that loves watching and studying the point guard position. So, when you get a young guy like Kennedy that plays that position at a high, high level and is versatile at that position and can score and make his teammates better, while also making his main focus winning? I’m just so excited. I’m pulling out old film, because I know he’s going to challenge me too and it’s going to be a really fun experience and I can’t wait.”

On how unique it is as a coach to be joining an entirely new and turned over team:

“I’ve dealt with it before. My first year at Arizona it was kind of similar. There was a big overhaul of the roster and myself and another coach were coming in and so we were building from the ground up. We really worked the transfer portal and got a few high school guys late and we just had to roll. The things I learned with that is you’re going to be as good as the people you’re with daily. The great thing about here is that we have an established culture that’s been established by coach Barnes and coach Schwartz who has been with coach forever. So, those two guys in place make it a smooth transition for coach Rod and I. Both of us are selfless and egoless and we just want to come in and be as successful as we possibly can be. It’s different, but I’ve been a part of it and I know what it looks like and when you have good people with an established culture it makes things a lot smoother.”

On the prospect of recruiting athletes to Tennessee:

“The great thing about Tennessee is—I’ve been some places where you tell guys where you’re from and they’re like, ‘Who? What? Where?’ And you have to tell them that your colors are X, Y, Z and our mascot is so forth and so on. And the great thing about the brand that is Tennessee is that everyone knows it. So, when you walk into a gym with that on your chest and that on your polo especially in our region is something that guys want to be a part of. For me, it’s great and I’m excited about being able to recruit these young men that care so much. The brand is recognizable and it’s going to be fun.”

On Jonas Aidoo contributing early as a freshman:

“First of all, Jonas is a high, high character young man. Through the process to get to where he is now, he is definitely what people would call a late bloomer. He took off a bit slow, had to figure it out. Hit a late growth spurt. Had to transfer his guard skills into being a seven-footer, so people didn’t really follow him early on. So, because of that I think he has a humbleness and likability to him that has allowed him to not be scarred by some of the things that come with being highly touted at a young age. First off, he’s a high character young man that comes from a great family and support system. He’s also a hard worker that loves the game of basketball and loves to work at it. He wants nothing more than to be in the gym improving on and working on his game. Then, he has a great personality especially for a big. He’s got a little kid in him where he just wants to have fun. I don’t know if you all have seen his Tik Tok numbers, but they are ridiculous. I have been trying to get him to teach me to be more popular on Tik Tok. I don’t know if there’s any hope for me on that. But, he just has a great sense of humor and a great way about himself that I think the fans and his teammates are going to love from a basketball standpoint. He’s a really skilled player. He’s a seven-foot skilled player. He can play with his back to the basket. He can play facing the basket, he can handle it a bit and can do a bit of everything. I think the biggest area of his game we’re going to need to improve is on the physical nature of his game and his ability to handle the physicality of the college game and I think all freshman have that learning curve.”

Rod Clark Transcript

On if he thought he would be coaching in the SEC this soon in his career:

“If I told you yes, I would definitely be lying right now. Not at all.”

On what qualities he possesses that have helped him ascend the coaching ranks:

“I think my recruiting, my relationships with players, working extremely hard in player development. I’m less than 10 years away from the age of some of our guys. Me and Fulky were talking after a few days of me being here and he told me that he turns 24 next month. I was like, wow, I’m only four years older than him. So I think that what I’m able to give them is that I went through what they’re going through not too long ago. I definitely think I benefit them from that standpoint.”

On the chance to work for a head coach like Rick Barnes:

“For me, it’s a huge honor. I’m from Kansas City, Missouri, so I grew up in Big 12 country. Obviously I got to see Rick Barnes at Texas and a lot of his teams. I watched them a crazy amount through the years, so for me, it’s working with the guy that has been an idol of mine for a long time in my life. It’s a complete dream come true for me. My younger cousin, Ishmail Wainwright, played at Baylor and I remember when we were kids, he always said that he wanted to go to Texas and play for Rick Barnes. So when I got this job, he was blowing my phone up like crazy just because he was in envy that I was actually able to work with Rick Barnes. I’m excited about learning as much as I can. Coach Barnes has done a great job of taking me under his wing and educating me on a lot of different things and showing me a lot of different things. Obviously you guys know he has stories for days, so those have been great as well for me.”

On finding a balance between being a friend and coach to his players as a young coach:

“That was actually the first question I asked myself my first year when I started coaching. A lot of people don’t know this, but my first ever coaching job, Victor Bailey was on our team. He was the second guy I ever recruited, for RM5 Elite, it was an EYBL team. I was then 23 years old and I think at that time he was 17. So I’ve always coached in environments where I’m barely older than the oldest player on the team. That’s always been the case, whether it’s me coaching high school or now me coaching college, I’ve always been close in age. I’ve always found a way to draw that line. For me, I think that the head coach is always like the dad. There’s always going to be a younger assistant that’s more like an uncle and then me, I’m like the older brother, but I’m also the older brother that doesn’t play. So I don’t play around with our guys, but granted I will invite them over to eat, I’ll take them out to lunch, we’ll talk, we’ll hang out, we’ll talk about the same music and different types of things like that, but at the end of the day, I’m still their coach and I’m an older influence for them. I think they understand that I mean business and they know where the line is drawn, where there’s a respect level there for me. It kind of came naturally, honestly.”

On his impressions of Rick Barnes teams when he was growing up and his thoughts on Rick Barnes since coming to Knoxville as an assistant coach:

“Those teams I watched, they were all really tough. They were competitive, they were talented, btu you never felt like the guys were entitled on his teams. You always saw the hard work. He coached probably the best player in the world and he wasn’t out there just jacking up 30 shots a game and playing selfish, he was playing with the team and his team played to win. I always admired that about coach Barnes. Me being a kid, you see Rick Barnes strutting the sideline and coaching these guys hard, and then I get here and the first thing he does when I meet him is talk about my suit and how he thought it made me look like Buddy Love from The Nutty Professor. So I was like, ‘I guess he’s not as serious as everyone says he is, cool.’ But it’s been great overall.”

On his perception of the culture at Tennessee and how he feels like he can build on it:

“My perception of it is everything that I’m about has always been competitive and strong. I think that are expectations, there is a line and a standard that everyone has to meet and it’s non-negotiable. I love that. I’m a firm believer is adversity, especially for young guys. I think that’s where my age always comes about when I talk to these guys, because I think sometimes, kids have the tendency to say, ‘coach, it’s different than when you played, you don’t know.’ But they can’t say that to me at all, because I’m not that much older than them. I definitely believe in them being tested and going through battles and wars, because I know nothing is ever handed to you and I also try to use the fact that I’m here at 28 years old, so obviously I’ve been in a lot of adverse situations, so for them, getting those experiences is going to help them longer in life. I think that’s the best thing that signifies coach Barnes’ culture because it raises men. Not just basketball players, it raises men.”

-UT Athletics

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