Rick Barnes discusses his young productive players

Tennessee's young players look to step up as Vols work toward the SEC schedule.

Tennessee's depth in the frontcourt took a hit Tuesday when the school announced redshirt freshman Jabari McGhee will transfer at the conclusion of the semester. McGhee, whose season was ended last year just eight games in after a foot injury, averaged 4.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14 career appearances for the Vols. 

Jabari and I had a great discussion about what he wants," first-year Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in a release Tuesday. "He's a team guy, and what he ultimately wants is to have a more impactful role on this team, which I understand. We love him, and we want to see him be successful. We'll do everything we can to help him find a school that is the right fit for him."

McGhee's departure will extend the minutes of freshmen big men like Kyle Alexander, Ray Kasongo and Admiral Schofield as Barnes looks to get more production out of his young forwards while transitioning toward the future. Alexander played 15 minutes in a 82-71 loss to Nebraska in the final game of the Barclay's Center Classic in Brooklyn, the same amount as senior center Derek Reese. That was a 10-minute increase over the previous game against George Washington, and Alexander proved his worth by leading the team with five rebounds and three blocks. 

Barnes decided to play Alexander and Admiral Schofield more in Saturday's game against the Cornhuskers after Tennessee fell down early, and his philosophy on experimenting with younger players transcends seniority. If the Vols are losing and Barnes doesn't like the on-court effort from his older players, the freshmen will see the floor. 

"You hate to say it, but if you’re going to lose, you’re going to lose with young guys. That’s the bottom line, and I want to see our senior class be really successful, but I don’t want them to think they can have a sense of entitlement. Everybody has got to earn their minutes—everybody." 

Schofield also came off the bench to log 17 minutes, notching 12 points in that span and showcasing to Vol fans what his coaches already knew. The Illinois native has gone from a wide-eyed freshman in the Rocky Top League this summer to someone who has settled down into a productive bench player so far in his first year.

“I wish you all knew how hard (Admiral) worked," Barnes said. "He’s improved more than any player since we’ve been here. He’s kind of where he had to get his body in shape. He’s around more. You talk about a guy that cares… he really cares. What you want to see as a coach is just that." 

With McGhee now gone to exacerbate the depth problems, Tennessee will continue playing its young talent alongside heavy minute workhorses Kevin Punter and Armani Moore in hopes of cultivating depth and improving their play in the most effective way possible — with real minutes in real games.

"The great thing about the Nebraska game was the way that Admiral and Kyle responded," Barnes said. "Those guys came in, and they might not have gotten that chance if we were in a closer game, but the fact is… there’s a long way to go. There are a lot of teams this time of year that are still trying to find their identity, and we’re one of them." 

The Vols have a 10-day layoff until their next game in Indianapolis against Butler Dec. 12, and Barnes will use that time to continue working his freshmen into the lineup if he doesn't like the way his veteran players respond on the court. 

It's simply the Rick Barnes way of doing business.

"I think the biggest thing that just erodes a team is a sense of entitlement with guys who think they are going to play regardless," Barnes said. "I don't think we have that here, but I can tell you that I'm not going to ever let it fester to do that. If it means taking one step backward to move two forward, you have to do that."

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