It wasn’t all that long ago that Rick Barnes was signing little known three-star prospects Jordan Bone and Grant Williams. Nobody was impressed at the time — plenty even quibbled about Barnes’ ability to recruit.
Three years later, both Bone and Williams left a year early for the NBA.
The two were massive pieces of Tennessee’s two year run, which featured a regular season SEC title, two SEC Tournament championship game appearances, four weeks as the AP No. 1, the school’s longest win streak ever, along with a No. 2 and a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Now Bone and Williams will head to the NBA, along with seniors Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander. That’s four of Tennessee’s five starters from last year gone, meaning Rick Barnes has his work cut out for him next year.
Complicating things a little here are the new expectations that will come with Barnes’ new contract with Tennessee. After talks with UCLA fell through and the Bruins opted not to play his buyout, Barnes stayed at Tennessee, receiving a big raise in the process. With that raise comes added expectations — expectations that are going to be tough to meet immediately with the current state of the roster.
Barnes just watched his top three scorers and top three rebounders walk out the door. He’s left with senior guards Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner to bridge the gap to the next chapter. They’ll go from fourth and fifth options to the first and second options to put points on the board for Tennessee this year.
Five-star guard Josiah James just got a lot more responsibility dumped on his plate, while other rotational pieces like John Fulkerson, Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons will see massive upticks in minutes.
Tennessee had a clear plan in the post after Grant Williams’ official departure, immediately adding 7-foot transfer Uros Plavsic from Arizona State. Considering the fact that they’ve known about Jordan Bone’s intentions for a while now, you can expect a similar move in the coming weeks to bolster the point guard depth.
The Vols starting five is about to go from Bone-Turner-Schofield-Williams-Alexander to something like Turner-Bowden-James-Fulkerson-Plavsic. While that isn’t exactly a call for full-out panic, it’s going to be a significant drop off from the last two seasons.
You know what, though? We have no reason to doubt what Rick Barnes and his staff can do with this group from a development standpoint.
As stated previously, Barnes pulled in Grant Williams and Jordan Bone not too long ago and nobody cared. He groomed them into legitimate NBA talents over the next three years. You can say the same for Schofield and even Alexander. Who’s to say he’s not going to do the same with Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua, Davonte Gaines, D.J. Burns and Uros Plavsic?
He’s already off to a more competitive start with this rebuild with five-star guard Josiah James in the building. He’s already got five-star wing Corey Walker Jr. committed to his 2020 class and has a good chance to add a high four-star in-state guard in Keon Johnson. Tennessee has also been in the mix for a while now with multiple other five-star guards in the 2020 class.
While the program may take a step back, it’s probably fair to assume that it will be temporary. Barnes has proved that his ability to develop players is second to none. With better recruiting efforts and a re-established program, Tennessee should be fine — though this upcoming year may be a bump in the road.