Barnes regales crowd at TipOff Club

Rick Barnes addressed the Big Orange TipOff Club Wednesday afternoon at Calhoun's on the River. InsideTennessee was there to bring you the highlights.

Armani Moore was pondering his leave.

The junior wasn’t planning on departing just from Tennessee, mind you. He was contemplating the idea of leaving the game of basketball altogether.

The sudden coaching change was tough on Moore, and Barnes met him for one of the first serious conversations he had with a player after taking over the Vols’ program in March. Seeing his Bible on the desk, Barnes opened it up and leafed through the pages to Psalm 1 and read it with his new player. After leaving to go to Dallas for a prayer breakfast, Barnes looked down at his phone to see a text message from Moore.

“He said, ‘Coach, I’m really glad you’re here,’" Barnes said. “’I know that God brought us together.’”

That intimate moment between player and coach was just one of the many anecdotes with which Barnes regaled the crowd at Calhoun’s on the River for an introductory Big Orange TipOff Club luncheon Wednesday.

Barnes spoke for an hour and took questions from fans in attendance, discussing everything from referee accountability to his phone conversations with former pupil and current NBA star Lamarcus Aldridge.

It was one of the first times for Barnes to connect with Tennessee fans on a personal level since arriving in Knoxville, and he took it to expound upon his personal mission to be both a successful basketball coach and community leader.

“I want to be a part of you all. I want to be a part of this community. I don’t just want to just be the basketball coach at the University of Tennessee,” Barnes said. “I think God has given me some incredible blessings, and being here and being around the community, I just feel the excitement going on.”

After a banner day Tuesday in which he doubled his recruiting class with the addition of Scout three-star guard Lamonte’ Turner and power forward Ray Kasongo, Barnes also discussed his recruiting philosophy and how the program approaches that crucial aspect of college coaching.

The first-year Vols head coach said he and his staff are looking at “three or four” different players to fill the final remaining scholarship spot available. The process has been tough on Tennessee with a limited number of evaluation days, but Barnes was optimistic he would find the best players possible to complement his returning corps.

“If we’re going to take players, we’re going to have a pretty good feel for what we’re doing. We’re not just going to take guys and not have a place for them,” Barnes said. “I’ve always believed that when everybody’s honest and open, it always works out. We want the best for everybody.”

But even with recruiting on the forefront of everybody’s mind right now, Barnes believes scheduling is one of the most critical aspects of making the NCAA Tournament, and he wants to revamp the way it’s done in Knoxville. He said he’s talked to North Carolina, Maryland and Gonzaga about potential games and stressed how important scheduling is to staying off the bubble come tourney time. The series with Gonzaga, Barnes said, would likely end with a return trip in Nashville.

“If you want to be a national program, you’ve got to have a national schedule,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to go north, south, east, west and want to play the very best. We’ve already been in conversation (about that.)

He also said there is no timetable for when he plans on having a strength and conditioning coach or support staff in place, as scheduling has currently taken precedent over that.

With the talk of rebuilding buzzing in the air, Barnes didn’t dismiss the challenges that were up ahead. But he did say he would not make excuses for the current situation and that the 2015-16 team's goals will be no different than those of his past.

“They are our guys,” Barnes said. “The one thing we said to them at the beginning is, ‘I don’t care what anyone else says. We’re going to come back here in June and we’re going to work and we’re going to find a way to get in that tournament next year.’”

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