Former NBA champ raves about Barnes

Rick Barnes has coached plenty of NBA players in his illustrious career. One of them opens up to InsideTennessee about his fit at Tennessee.

Dickey Simpkins knows a thing or two about basketball. Or perhaps a thing or three, as that’s how many NBA championship rings dangle from his right hand when he chooses to slip them all on his fingers.

Simpkins, taken as the 21st overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1994 NBA draft, spent eight years in the NBA and 13 as a professional basketball player. Now he heads the Next Level Performance AAU program in Chicago, coaching talented players and shuffling them across the country in hopes of helping them land a college scholarship or professional contract. He also serves as a scout for the Charlotte Hornets and occasionally moonlights as a basketball analyst for ESPN.

But before all of that, the Washington D.C. native was but a 6-9, 248-pound center for Rick Barnes at Providence College. Simpkins began his college career in 1990, when he and Barnes linked up for a successful four-year run that included an NIT semifinal appearance.

Simpkins serves as a microcosm of the new Tennessee coach’s ability to recruit elite athletes, even before landing the Texas job in 1998.

“It’s a combination of the fact that he does a good job of evaluating talent and getting the talent to come to play for him,” Simpkins told InsideTennesse. “That’s No. 1, and No. 2 is his ability to take that talent and put them in the right situation to grow and be able to play at the next level.”

Barnes placed 17 players in the NBA during his time in Austin, most notably current Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant, who called his old coach “a father figure.” The ability of Barnes to connect with his players personally became a nice draw to potential recruits, including the one he landed 15 years ago at Providence.

“Coach Barnes’ approach as a coach and having that player-coach relationship has grown every year from back when I played to this point in time," Simpkins said. "The last part of it is just going out and coaching and getting the best out of the talent."

The three-time NBA champion also discussed Barnes’ ability to mold the talent he’s able to acquire into its highest potential. Simpkins finished his career at Providence with 1,226 points and 790 rebounds, highlighted by two postseason berths.

“The success that he puts the talent into helps the talent develop and grow, and it also helps the team,” Simpkins said. “I think it’s those three things: evaluating the talent, getting them to come play for him and putting the talent in the right situation where they blossom and showcase their talent in the right situation and grow.”

Simpkins’ prior experience with Barnes was also key in helping Tennessee retain 2015 signee Admiral Schofield, who plays AAU ball for the former Providence star. His insight into Barnes’ coaching ability and personality pushed Schofield to remain a Vol despite the termination of Donnie Tyndall, with whom he developed a strong relationship.

“I’ve known Admiral for a while. Knowing Coach Barnes and playing for Coach Barnes for a while, and everything Coach Barnes has done and accomplished as a college coach and the players that he’s coached, I thought it was a good fit for Admiral,” Simpkins said. “For Coach Barnes, I thought Admiral was a good fit for him.”

Simpkins isn’t shy about his affection for Barnes or the influence he’s had in his deep NBA run. To him, the marriage between Barnes and Tennessee will be long and fruitful.

“All the conversations talk about Tennessee as far as the facilities and what they have to offer — the facilities, the athletics, the fan base and the University of Tennessee as a whole,” he said. “Coach Barnes has been around, and it’s a great fit for the school.”


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