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Rick Barnes: ‘Every guy has improved, I know that’

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Time to gear up for some basketball.

Vanderbilt v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

For two straight seasons, Tennessee’s identity has been simple and obvious. They were going to play tough, physical ball while operating almost exclusively through Grant Williams or Admiral Schofield, or even point guard Jordan Bone, who emerged as a real playmaker last year.

Each one of those guys are gone now, along with Tennessee’s rim protector Kyle Alexander. Each have found opportunities in the NBA — a staggering development for a group of three star prospects that came to Tennessee with little to no fanfare at all.

It’s a new day for Rick Barnes, but thankfully for him, a couple of senior guards will be back to ease the transition. Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden will be tasked with becoming fourth or fifth options to full time primary scoring options for Tennessee this season. Their leadership and experience is something that Barnes is leaning on right now.

“We have been really impressed with our young guys coming because we have had great leadership from Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden,” Barnes said at a charity golf tournament on Tuesday. “We need those two guys along with John Fulkerson and Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson, those guys that have been here. It is their time now. They need to step up there and play. They have done a great job of showing these younger guys the way we do things.”

We know what Turner and Bowden bring to the table, it’s the rest of the puzzle that will have to click to make things work for this particular team this year. Can John Fulkerson become a legitimate threat in the post? Will Jalen Johnson finally flourish in a consistent role? What will Yves Pons become? Is Zach Kent ready to contribute? Those are the questions that Tennessee needs answers to right now.

For Barnes and his staff, this offseason has been about expanding those players in an attempt to get everything possible out of this roster.

“What we wanted to do was see if we could expand some guys and get them out of a box,” Barnes said. “Sometimes, players put themselves in a box more than coaches can. From a coaching staff, we wanted to see if guys could do some other things. Every year you start over whether you’ve got guys coming back or you don’t. We are going to tweak some things with our offense and I hope we can continue to add some things to what we do defensively. I think every guy has improved, I know that. Every guy that we have.”

Tennessee will be leaning on those veterans mentioned above, but they will also hope to get big time numbers out of five-star freshman guard Josiah-Jordan James. Additionally, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember and Olivier Nkamhoua all could be called upon for depth depending on how things play out.

Barnes has established a culture in Knoxville over the past few years. That culture will be put to the test this season as he turns to new faces around the program.