Tennessee rolled through their final preseason scrimmage on Tuesday night, breezing past Lenoir-Rhyne 90-48. The Volunteers were once again without point guard Zakai Zeigler, opting to play it safe as he continues to recover from a torn ACL. Rick Barnes left the door open for him to play in Tennessee’s scrimmages, but they ultimately decided against it.
“He cares a lot and he desperately wants to play,” Barnes said after the game. “It’s killing him because he’s a guy if we would let him play, he would tell you he’s a hundred percent, even if he were 75% and he would play his heart out. It’s killing him not to play. But we’ve said it before, we’re gonna air on the caution side with him. But he knows what he needs to do.”
Barnes didn’t let the opportunity go to waste, however.
You knew Zeigler would be involved as a teammate on the sidelines, but Barnes took things a step further. Known to be quite animated when he sees a mistake, Barnes kept Zeigler by his side to give him a first-hand view and a full explainer for everything he saw.
“We got ready to start and came up to me and I said, ‘Here sit down, sit with me tonight,” Barnes said. “Let’s talk, we’ll talk through the game and I said, ‘I’ll let you see what’s going on, what I’m thinking, what you’re thinking.’”
Barnes also let Zeigler explain to his teammates why they just got pulled off the floor.
“And things would happen — like, I would say, what didn’t — like start the game,” Barnes continued. “One thing we wanted to do is really advance the ball. We didn’t, and we had chances to do it. And I said to him, ‘right now, do you think Jahmai knows he can advance the ball? He said, ‘I don’t know.’ I said, ‘I’m saying he thinks those guys aren’t open. Are they open?’ He says they’re open. So we called timeout and I said to Jahmai, ‘why didn’t you advance the ball? He said, ‘those guys weren’t open.’ I said, ‘Z were they open?’ He said, ‘they’re open.’
“Then as time was going on, I would take a guy out of the game and I would say, ‘go tell him why you just got taken out of the game.’”
You’ve got to love the relationship between those two.
The junior point guard will continue to work back to full strength, with the next opportunity to hit the floor coming on November 6th in the opener against Tennessee Tech. The Volunteers will then hit the road to take on Wisconsin on November 10th.
One other note — Santiago Vescovi will be back on campus today after taking time off to deal with a family matter. Tennessee played both scrimmages without him, so it’s going to be interesting to see how the minutes shake out in a loaded backcourt once both he and Zeigler return.