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Rick Barnes on Lamonte Turner: ‘We can’t reach our full potential without him’

This team can still get better.

NCAA Basketball: Georgia at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee got an unexpected boost on Saturday as last year’s SEC sixth man of the year checked into the game early in the first half. It was Lamonte Turner’s fourth game of the season, but it was his first action since the coaching staff shut him down in early December.

“Yesterday he practiced a little bit,” Barnes told reporters after the Georgia blowout. “At shootaround, he started feeling like he could do it. Really, it wasn’t until after shootaround where we thought he was going to try and do it.”

Barnes said earlier in the week that he didn’t expect Turner to play, so this was a nice surprise for everyone, himself included. Turner has been struggling to get back to form after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. Instead of letting him play through his struggles, Barnes sat him down for the entire month of December.

“I think early in the season, he was trying to be overly aggressive on the offensive end,” Barnes continued. “Honestly I think he was trying to prove to himself that he could do some things and work through the pain that he was dealing with.”

Turner scored 13 points in his first action of the season against Louisville, actually making a couple of key jumpers to ice that game late. But he went 5-24 from the floor in his next two games, prompting the reset from the Tennessee staff.

“He’s worked hard trying to keep himself conditioned,” Barnes said. “He’s a guy that will come back at night and run, run, run. But there’s nothing like actual playing time. He’s older and he’ll work his way back in. I think he’s learned a lot by sitting out and watching. It was great and I think everyone was excited to have him back on the floor today.”

Turner’s absence has forced Jordan Bone to grow up in a hurry and handle a ton of minutes. Bone has responded, transforming into one of the best point guards in the country. The beautiful thing about all of this is Tennessee is 12-1, without getting much from one of their key players. It’s probably going to take a few weeks at least, but if Turner can return to form, the Vols will be that much tougher of an out come tournament time.

“He hasn’t had a lot of practice — I thought he handled himself well,” Barnes said. “We’ve been pretty good, but we can’t get to our full potential without him.”