Tennessee bids farewell to four seniors Saturday as they wrap up their careers against Ole Miss in the regular season finale, all four of whom have experienced more coaching changes than NCAA Tournament appearances. Kevin Punter, Armani Moore, Devon Baulkman and Derek Reese all finish their careers with the Vols as the glue of a tumultous stretch of the program's storied history who embraced their third new coach who came from Texas.
"I love the guys because, again, I go back to when we first got here and the first couple of meetings we had with them and you could tell they were ... apprehensive about it," Rick Barnes said. "In some of their cases it was three coaches in three years, but once we got settled in and talked to them about where we wanted to go and how we saw things, we talked about trust. I'll look back on this group, and I've said it all year, it's been a fun group to coach. They wanted to be good and I do think they bought into what we were trying to do to lay the foundation."
The leader of the group, Kevin Punter, will have to experience the festivities from the bench. The nation's 12th-leading scorer will undergo surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot on Tuesday in New York, putting a disappointing bow on his illustrious Tennessee career.
"I don't regret anything that happened," Punter said. "I believe everything happens for a reason, which is why I worked my behind off from the summertime because it can stop at any moment because of injury, because of anything. That's something I always believed in."
Punter's absence makes Senior Day even more bittersweet as Tennessee fans say goodbye to their senior class that includes what Rick Barnes calls his most versatile player ever in Armani Moore.
"I don't know if I've coached a more versatile guy or asked a guy to do as much as we have asked him to do. We started out the year relying on he and (Punter) to do everything really. He played a number of different spots and with different injuries. He's had to literally focusing on one spot to, in the last couple of games, he's really run the point exclusively, which is not an easy thing to do."
Moore hasn't quite connected with the fact that it will be his last time running out of the Power T inside Thompson-Boling Arena, but he knows it will be a special moment.
"I'm pretty sure it will hit me here soon," Moore said. "It's been a tough time but some fun times. There's a lot that I can remember in these four years. I've enjoyed the ride. Unfortunately it has to come to an end."
The bond the four formed with Rick Barnes is evident, from when you hear them talk on the bench of about each other.
"From growing up watching him coach one of my favorite players, it's just crazy that then I would be here at Tennessee and him being my coach looking back at it," Punter said of Barnes. "It's pretty crazy how life works."