Barnes: Speculation has 'no legs'

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New Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes says he made no comment about speculation he was involved in NCAA violations at his previous stop because doing so was pointless. With Lamonte’ Turner’s academic status unsettled, “pointless” also describes the current state of his Vol roster.

Barnes made his first public comments regarding allegations of misconduct at the University of Texas during an 11-minute interview with Knoxville-area media between Games 1 and 2 of Monday night’s Rocky Top League action at Catholic High School Gym. The new coach appeared downright bubbly, quipping that he asked Robert Hubbs for an autograph after the Vol junior hit a 3-pointer and later urging the assembled reporters to sing “Rocky Top” in unison.

Barnes turned somber, however, when asked about recent reports of alleged improprieties in Longhorn basketball during the late stages of his 17-year stint as head man in Austin. He has a squeaky-clean reputation that he is determined to maintain.

“The reason I haven’t said anything about it: If you read the article from my point of view, there’s no legs to it,” he said. “I think Texas has said everything that needed to be said. I’m sure they’ll proceed with whatever (disciplinary action) they think they have to do there. But it (report) made clear that I had no involvement in it, which I knew…. It has no legs, and I’m not really concerned about it.”

Barnes said he knew nothing of the allegations when he left the Longhorns in late March and accepted the reins at Tennessee. He noted that he subsequently answered “a couple of questions” about the allegations in an interview with some reporters several weeks ago “and that was the extent of it.”

When asked if he is comfortable that he has no role in the violations, Barnes turned the tables on the reporter, asking: “Did you read the article? What do you think? If you guys (media) read the article, it was pretty obvious from what was said in the article that there was nothing there from my (standpoint). Texas has come out and said that. It’s been pretty clear.”

Barnes said his chief regret is the possible collateral damage to Tennessee, which fired Donnie Tyndall in connection with alleged NCAA violations at Southern Miss mere days before hiring Barnes.

“It was disappointing that my picture was put there with it (newspaper report) anyway,” Barnes said. “If I did make a statement it would’ve been that, given everything that’s happened here at the University of Tennessee, I hate for something like that to even pop up.”

Just as he sees no point in commenting on the Texas investigation, Barnes sees no point when he looks at Tennessee’s roster … at least until Lamonte’ Turner qualifies for admission. That appears a bit iffy at present but Barnes expects a positive outcome.

“We’re waiting on him to post this last grade that he has,” the coach told InsideTennessee, “then we’ll make a decision from there where he’ll be. But we’re counting on him being here next week unless something changes.”

Turner, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound combo guard from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, is the heir-apparent at point guard now that 2014-15 starter Josh Richardson has exhausted his eligibility. If Turner can’t enroll the point guard role could be a joint effort by several Tennessee players.

“Right now I believe we’d say it’s all by committee,” Barnes told IT. “The real key will be who we’re going to turn it over to in the last four minutes (of a game), and we’ve got a couple of months to figure that out.”

The new coach said all of Tennessee’s backcourt players are “combination-type guards” capable of playing some point. Because of experience, however, the two players he’s most seriously considering at the moment are seniors Kevin Punter and Armani Moore. Punter played shooting guard in 2014-15. Moore played power forward but “passes the ball well” and “is willing to do whatever he has to do,” Barnes said.

The new coach quickly added that the point-guard picture could change dramatically since “There’s a long time to go between now and when we play.”

Barnes prefers a fast-paced transition attack that relies on half-court sets as a last resort. Still, he says a quality point guard is important in his offense.

“It’s critical in everybody’s offense,” he told IT. “You’ve got to have great guard play, whether you do it by committee or whether you do it with three or four guys handling the ball for you. You have to find a way (to score) with what you have.”

Barnes admitted that he’s endured “a bunch” of seasons when his team lacked a true point guard.

“I don’t know how many true point guards I’ve coached,” he said. “They’re hard to come by. If you watch the NBA Draft you see that the ones that are true point guards normally get their number called pretty high.”

Though signed as a point-guard prospect, the 6-foot-5 Moore proved turnover-prone as a freshman and quickly moved off the ball, where he has spent the past 2½ seasons. The 6-foot-4 Punter was projected to play the point after arriving from junior college last preseason but lost the job to Josh Richardson, then struggled as an occasional fill-in at the position.

Tennessee fans are understandably concerned but Barnes appears confident the Vols will be OK at the point, noting: “I do think we’ve got guys who are capable of doing what we need them to do.”

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