It took Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes exactly one game — one exhibition game, that is — to get after one of his players through the media. Reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams was his target after Tennessee’s 87-48 win over Tusculum.
“Grant missed some shots around the rim, I thought that affected him on the other end,” Barnes said after the game against Tusculum. “In fact he only, how many rebounds? Three rebounds. He’s way behind in that area.”
Tennessee cruised against Tusculum, outside of one bumpy stretch to open the second half. Barnes seemed pleased overall, but he harped on Grant’s lack of rebounds a couple of times through his press conference after the game.
“That’s totally on (Grant),” Barnes said. “It’s an attitude. The fact is, he’s not making the effort to get to the boards. There’s no way he should have three rebounds in a game like this. The fact is, in the second half, we challenged him on it. He allowed Yves Pons to take two away from him. That’s the mentality he’s got to have. Kyle Alexander started trying to do that, Derrick Walker, we need those guys to rebound the ball. But Grant’s the guy — he should be averaging ten rebounds a game. It’s just a mindset. He’s got to understand, that’s probably the biggest statistic that he’s going to be judged by.”
This is a common practice for Barnes, who isn’t afraid to lay into his players in media settings. It’s one of the things that makes him unique as a coach. Williams has actually been a consistent target for Barnes dating back to last year. To Grant’s credit, he’s always seemed to take the criticism in stride.
“That’s what we talked about to him during the whole offseason. If you want to improve in one area, that better be the biggest area. Through our scrimmage and today, he hasn’t done that.”
If you’re looking for a positive development in the rebound department, you can look towards sophomore big man Derrick Walker. The 6-8, 236 pound big man looked as good as he has since he arrived in Knoxville, pulling down seven boards in just 15 minutes. Kyle Alexander also pulled in six rebounds during his 19 minutes of play.
If there’s one thing Tennessee struggled with last year, it was size. The Vols are solid across the board, but struggled in the rebound department against certain teams last year. They ranked just 131st in rebounds per game last season, so you can understand Barnes stressing the importance of Grant being active on the boards. Maybe an expanded role for Derrick Walker, along with more minutes for a guy like Yves Pons, can help that number this season.