Rick Barnes wore a shockingly bright orange polo Wednesday at SEC Tip-Off. It’s the only color the Tennessee coach has known since he left Providence for Clemson in 1994.
The 64-year-old has gone on to have success with the Tigers, Texas and now the Volunteers, reigning league co-champions. He’s entering his fourth season at UT with a roster that features D.J. Burns, a four-star forward from Rock Hill, South Carolina. His 2019 recruiting class is headlined by Josiah James, a five-star guard from Charleston.
Barnes’ Palmetto State ties go back over 20 years. Has that helped him in today’s recruiting world?
“Obviously growing up in North Carolina, spending time at Clemson, I’m very familiar with that area,” said Barnes, a Hickory, N.C., native. “But it goes back to Rob Lanier, Michael Schwartz and Desmond Oliver. Those guys have done just a terrific job doing their job and getting some very good players in that state.”
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Lanier, Schwartz and Oliver are Barnes’ assistants at Tennessee. Schwartz was the lead recruiter for James, who picked the Volunteers over Duke and Clemson. Burns picked the Volunteers less than a month after reclassifying and visiting USC.
“There’s no doubt that the success that we’ve had there goes straight to my assistant coaches,” Barnes said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job.”
Tennessee in 2018-19 returns all five starters from a team that won 26 games last season and appeared in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Immediate impact from Burns could be limited, Barnes said.
“It’s pretty phenomenal what he’s already done to change his body,” Barnes said of the listed 6-foot-9, 272-pounder. “But he’s got a long way to go. He knows it because he knows, from a physical standpoint, he still has to improve. From a mental standpoint, that might be the biggest adjustment he’s going to have to make.
“We’ll see how everything plays out this year, but there is no doubt we think he’s going to be a huge part of the future of our program.”
Touted South Carolina basketball players finding their way to SEC schools has been a trend as of late. USC has Hartsville point guard Trae Hannibal coming in the ‘19 class, Ole Miss has sophomore Devontae Shuler (Irmo), Vanderbilt has freshman Aaron Nesmith (Charleston) and Alabama has Juwan Gary (formerly of Gray Collegiate in Columbia) coming in ‘19 and Tevin Mack (Columbia) starting this year after transferring from Texas.
“Tevin Mack can hopefully help us be a much improved 3-point shooting team,” said Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson. “Hopefully we will be better late in the shot clock because we think he can get his shot off at any time. “
“He’s far exceeded our expectations,” Vandy coach Bryce Drew said of Nesmith. “He’s college-ready right now to help us in games. So he’ll take a big role on from day one, when we start our season Nov. 6.”
Burns and the Volunteers come to Colonial Life Arena on Jan. 29. Ole Miss visits Feb. 19. The Tide comes Feb. 26. The Gamecocks travel to play the Commodores in Nashville on Jan. 16.
“I think the draw for Aaron was the academic piece,” Drew said of Nesmith, who was offered by both USC and Clemson. “His brother attends Harvard. That’s a very academic family. And I think he really valued that.”