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VOL. 43 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 22, 2019

Barnes pleased with early play of rebuilding Vols

By Rhiannon Potkey

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Rick Barnes isn’t one to dole out compliments very easily after games.

The Tennessee men’s basketball coach can always find something to keep his players motivated to improve.

But after the Vols beat Murray State last week, Barnes was effusive in his praise for Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden.

The senior guards helped the Vols rally from a first half deficit to beat the Racers.

Bowden hit a career-high six 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 26 points, while Turner dished out a career-high 14 assists with no turnovers.

“They were the leaders that we needed them to be,” Barnes said at the time. “They were terrific – both of them.”

The performance was a prime example of how important Turner and Bowden will be this season as the Vols try to prove they have staying power as one of the top programs in the country.

Tennessee will be leaning on its experienced backcourt while the remainder of the roster grows and matures.

The Vols followed up the Murray State win with an even more impressive victory, taking down then No. 20 Washington 75-62 in Toronto. The results vaulted Tennessee into the rankings this week at No. 20 and earned Bowden SEC Player of the Week honors.

Turner and Bowden have been part of the rise in stature of Tennessee’s program under Barnes. This follows a season in which the Vols won a share of the SEC regular-season title, earned a No. 1 national ranking and reached the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16.

Tennessee’s roster has undergone some major turnover, losing star power and NBA draft picks.

All-American forward Grant Williams was selected by the Boston Celtics with the 22nd overall pick. All-SEC selections Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone were both second-round selections. Longtime starter Kyle Alexander signed as a free agent and is playing in the G-League.

Turner and Bowden aren’t trying to make up for all the lost production, but they realize they can set the tone for their younger teammates. They can show them what the expectations have become.

“People think just because Grant and them left that we don’t have nothing on this team,” Bowden says. “We have a tough group of young guys that are buying in.”

Turner’s performance against Murray State showcased his increased maturity as a player. He finished with just five points on 2 of 12 shooting, but his 14 assists and zero turnovers were crucial to the outcome.

“Coach Barnes has been working with me for four years now on doing other things besides scoring, mentally just being a point guard and kind of just trying to be poised when things don’t go my way,” Turner adds.

“I think tonight was a big testament to that, and how much work him and I have put in to help me control the game when things aren’t really flowing and to just keep going. I think we did that tonight.”

Turner’s daily preparation has impressed Tennessee’s coaching staff. He goes hard all the time, not just for personal improvement but for the team’s betterment.

“He knows that our team will obviously have a different dynamic, but he also understands how he has to be a positive leader and I don’t think he is wrapped up in himself at all,” Barnes points out.

“I think he is totally concerned with what he can do to make each individual a better player. I know how much he wants to win and he is as competitive as any player that we’ve coached since we’ve been here.”

Bowden has worked on becoming more consistent this season and having a more aggressive mentality on both ends of the floor for the Vols.

“We don’t want him to put his whole mindset on scoring the basketball. We want him to be a complete player,” Barnes adds. “We think that he can affect games on the defensive end. We do want him to understand that he’s going to probably be in the game playing a little bit different this year than he has been in the past. I mean, people did pay attention to him, but not to the extent people will this year.”

The senior guards have kept Tennessee on the winning track early while their teammates grow into their new roles.

Junior Yves Pons has anchored Tennessee’s frontcourt production with his strength and athleticism. Redshirt junior John Fulkerson has provided strong scoring and rebounding.

Tennessee’s post depth took a hit with redshirt freshman Uros Plavsic being sidelined. The 7-foot Arizona State transfer had his NCAA waiver to play this season denied, much to the consternation of Tennessee athletic officials.

The Vols’ promising freshmen class this season includes Josiah-Jordan James, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember and Olivier Nkamhoua.

James was rated as the nation’s No. 22 prospect in his class by 247Sports. The 6-foot-6 guard was the first top 100 recruit to sign with Tennessee under Barnes.

But he certainly wasn’t the last.

Tennessee’s recruiting momentum was amplified last week when the Vols signed one of the best classes in program history.

Five-star prospects Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer and four-star prospect Corey Walker Jr. gave Tennessee a class that ranked as high as No. 4 nationally by ESPN, Rival and 247Sports.

It all provides a hopeful answer to anyone expecting the Vols to drop off once the stars from last year’s team departed.

Turner and Bowden don’t plan to make any concessions in their final seasons on Rocky Top.

“They got the taste of what it’s like to be a really good basketball team and being a program people are excited about, and they want to see if they can obviously take it even further,” Barnes explains.

“They know it’s a little bit different because they’ve got so many young guys who’ve never tasted any of that, but they have been great leaders, I will say that. They’ve shown great leadership.”

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