It’s been a few years since Rick Barnes wore bright orange shirts on a daily basis, but he remembers those days well.
That was when the Hickory native coached basketball at Clemson, spending four seasons there (1994-1998) and leading the Tigers to three straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Now Barnes is back in bright orange again, this time as Tennessee’s coach.
“It feels very much like I’m back at home,” Barnes said Wednesday during the SEC media day at the Ballantyne Hotel. “But I’ve changed a lot since those days.
“It’s a new start for (the players), it’s a new start for me. We’ve got to do this together.”
Barnes, who played in college at Lenoir-Rhyne, took over the Volunteers’ program in March after spending 17 seasons at Texas, where he led the Longhorns to 16 NCAA tournament appearances in 17 seasons, winning at least 20 games 15 times.
Now Barnes wants to do the same with Tennessee’s program, which last played in the NCAA tournament in 2014.
“He’s a guy who pays close attention to details,” senior forward Armani Moore said. “Another positive is that he likes being in the gym. It’s always good to have a coach you can relate to, that likes to get in the gym day in and day out and work on your individual needs.”
However, Barnes takes over a team that underwent coaching changes in back-to-back years. Cuonzo Martin left after the 2013-14 season to take over at California, and Donnie Tyndall was fired after last season for possible NCAA violations while coaching at Southern Miss.
Barnes, who has also coached at George Mason and Providence, knows the returning players have gone through a lot the past two seasons.
“This is the third system they’ve had to adjust to in three years,” Barnes said. “But I couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys and in the things we’ve asked them to do.
“They have bought in, but we’ve still got a ways to go. But they do want to be a better basketball team.”
Harris brings NCAA experience
Tyler Harris has experienced one thing that his Auburn teammates haven’t – playing in the NCAA tournament.
Harris, a 6-foot-10 forward, has played in three NCAA tournaments with two different teams – with N.C. State in 2012, which advanced to the Sweet 16, and with Providence in 2014 and 2015.
Now in his final year of eligibility, Harris believes a fourth appearance can happen with the Tigers, who last made it into the NCAA tournament field in 2003.
“As a team, on paper, we’re ready,” Harris said. “We’ve got the depth, we’ve got the talent, and the guys have the experience. It’s just a matter of coming together and working together.”
Wildcats picked No. 1
Defending SEC champion Kentucky was the preseason pick to defend its title in voting among conference and national media.
The Wildcats, coming off a 38-1 season and a trip to the NCAA Final Four, are the overall preseason favorite for the 11th time since the 1998-1999 season.
Vanderbilt was picked to finish second, followed by Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Mississippi, Auburn, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Missouri.
Freshman is preseason player of year
LSU’s Ben Simmons was named the SEC preseason player of the year, only the second freshman in league history to receive the honor.
Simmons was also one of two freshmen named to the All-SEC preseason first team along with Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere. Mississippi State freshman Malik Newman was named to the second team.
Texas A&M’s Danuel House, Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, Mississippi’s Stefan Moody and Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis were also named to the first team.
The rest of the second team included Florida’s Dorian Finney-Smith, Georgia’s Charles Mann, Kentucky’s Alex Poythress, LSU’s Tim Quarterman and Alex Caruso of Texas A&M.
SEC Preseason media ranking
3. Texas A&M
7. South Carolina
8. Mississippi State