Rick Barnes looks beyond Rocky Top this summer

Rick Barnes looks beyond Rocky Top this summer

Barnes values extra practices before summer trip to Europe

June 16th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Tennessee's Jordan Bowden, left, and Grant Williams get tangled up with North Carolina's Kenny Williams during their game in Chapel Hill last December. The Vols begin play in their summer league Monday and will play three games during a trip to Europe in August.

Photo by Gerry Broome


By team, players with area ties who will play in the Pilot Rocky Top League against Tennessee players, starting Monday (* — former college player):

› DeRoyal Industries: *Quincey Scates, Tennessee Wesleyan; Luke Smith, Sewanee signee; Levi Woods, Lee University (Meigs County); Ryan Montgomery, Lee University (Chattanooga Central).

› Garza Law Firm: *Leland Robinson, Tennessee Wesleyan; *Jorden Williams, Sewanee (McCallie) *Brody Stone, Sewanee.

› News Sentinel: Emier Bowman, Maryville College (Dalton); Danny Bates, Tennessee Wesleyan.

› Smithbilt: *Jonathan Adams, Old Dominion (Baylor School); Jordan Hall, Tennessee Wesleyan; *Fred Sturdivant, Texas Southern (Brainerd); *Trey Suttles, Tennessee Wesleyan (Tyner).

› Tillman Companies: *Brandon Cole, Bryan College.


KNOXVILLE — Most members of Tennessee's 2017-18 men's basketball team will take the court for the opening night of the Pilot Rocky Top League on Monday at Knoxville Catholic High School.

The annual midsummer tradition features some of east Tennessee's best players, including several from the Chattanooga area. But those games aren't where coach Rick Barnes will be looking to gain offseason insights about the Volunteers.

"That league is so good defensively, I'm going to play," the 62-year-old Barnes said Sunday.

Instead, the third-year Tennessee coach is focusing on 10 practices and a trip to Europe in early August.

College basketball teams are allowed to travel abroad once every four summers, and the Vols are heading to Spain and France in early August. They will play three games and do plenty of sightseeing.

Before they go, Barnes will take full advantage of the extra practice time permitted because of the trip.

"We think that's the biggest benefit of it," he said.

Barnes said after presiding over the first summer practice last Friday that his team's conditioning is better than it has been in previous years at this time.

"One thing we wanted to do in the offseason as soon as our last game was over is we wanted to take our conditioning to another level in the spring, and when we got back this time of year to take it to another level," Barnes said. "Then we'll try to do it again once we get back to school in September.

"I think the attitude is really good. I think we've shown that the majority of our guys, or really all of them, have improved from the end of the year."

The Vols finished this past season 16-16 overall and 8-10 in the Southeastern Conference with a young, undersized team. The addition of veteran guards James Daniel and Chris Darrington — plus the signing of freshman forwards Zach Kent, Derrick Walker and Yvez Pons — is expected to help solve the problems regarding size and experience.

All except Pons, who is from France, have enrolled at Tennessee. Pons is expected to join the team during the Europe trip.

Daniel, sophomore forward John Fulkerson and redshirt sophomore guard Lamonte Turner will miss the Rocky Top League as they continue rehabbing injuries. But even if the three are not ready to play in Europe, Barnes would still have 10 healthy scholarship players to experiment with on the trip.

"I think it'll be helpful," Barnes said. "I think it'll be helpful when we get there, because hopefully the competition is worthy. The fact that we can get challenged that way. I still think the practices leading up to it, then when we get into the games doing some experimenting with it (will be valuable). Maybe some guys start well and some are better off the bench.

"I think we'll learn from the games themselves."

As for the Rocky Top League, each of the six teams features two Tennessee players. Games are scheduled for 6, 7:30 and 9 p.m. on June 19, 21, 26 and 28. Admission is free.

The mostly-for-kicks annual tradition is known for its fast pace and individual scoring outbursts, such as former Vols guard Kevin Punter posting 76 points in a 2015 game.

Barnes joked that he and a Tennessee athletic department staff member could play in the league.

"And I would say Butch," Barnes said, referencing Vols football coach Butch Jones. "But not so much. Butch is not in shape to play in the Rocky Top League.

"Our guys will do it. But I think anytime you play in a league where a guy like Kevin Punter had 70-something points, that's definitely the kind of league I want to play in."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.