For years, Tennessee basketball fans have begged Rick Barnes to change his philosophy. After losing his second key forward into the transfer portal within a month, the signs are there that he’s doing just that.
Julian Phillips, who was a five-star freshman last year and is still testing the NBA Draft waters, has reportedly entered the portal. Last year, Phillips averaged just over eight points and four and a half rebounds.
At 6’8″ 198 pounds, Phillips started 25 of 32 games last year. Rob Cassidy of Rivals initially announced the Tennessee basketball forward’s plans to enter the portal on Twitter.
This decision by Phillips comes over a month after forward Olivier Nkamhoua entered the portal. Nkamhoua, who is also testing the NBA Draft waters, is 6’8″ 223 pounds, started all 36 games last year and averaged nearly 11 points and right at five rebounds.
These two players occupied the forward spots, and both spent a heavy amount of time in the post. Meanwhile, Barnes brought in transfer sharpshooters Jordan Gainey from the USC Upstate Spartans and Dalton Knecht from the Northern Colorado Bears.
Sure, Barnes also added Chris Ledlum from the Harvard Crimson, another defensive specialist with length, but the other two additions make it clear at this point. Barnes and the Vols are committed to better three-point shooting next year.
Has Barnes finally figured it out? His insistence that defense wins championships has too often proven costly to the Vols, as they just haven’t had enough offensive firepower in certain games in March. One poor shooting game always cost them.
With the Gainey and Knecht effectively replacing Nkamhoua and Phillips, it’s clear Barnes is changing that approach. Of course, Josiah-Jordan James and Uros Plavsic are also testing the NBA Draft waters. Still, the principle remains.
B.J. Edwards entered the portal last week, a four-star point guard in the Vols’ 2022 recruiting class. His action was limited even after Zakai Zeigler got hurt, though. The signs are that Barnes and UT are loaded at guard, and that’s where they want to go next year.
On paper, losing your most reliable starter and your player with the most potential seems devastating. However, this is actually a positive for Tennessee basketball. Barnes is changing his philosophy at last.