By Alex Norman

Hard to believe that basketball season is already here. New Tennessee men’s coach Rick Barnes has already coached his first game for the Vols. Recently we had the chance to catch up with the long time Texas coach, and found out what he expects in his first year on Rocky Top.

Alex Norman: What are your thoughts on your team so far?

Rick Barnes: I like our guys. I do think they want to be a good team. We obviously have some things we need to work through. We have got to get a more defensive mentality mindset with these guys, and we will work towards doing that… We are doing some good things offensively but we are not close to what we want to do defensively.

AN: Looking at your roster, you have four seniors that are starting. How important is it to have experienced players that will play a lot of minutes?

RB: Experience is good if they are good players, and I think we have really good senior players. I look at what they are doing, we still have two of them that have been here for four years and now been through three coaching staffs. They have handled that well. Then you have the JUCO guys. We are counting on the seniors to give us leadership.

AN: What was it about Tennessee?  Why did you want to continue your coaching career here?

RB: I still love the game. I wouldn’t have jumped at just anything. This is a great university in a great conference and it is a benefit to know (Tennessee athletic director) Dave Hart. I know who he is and what he is about. Just talking to him on the phone, it was easy to sense his enthusiasm and what plans he has. Wherever he’s been he’s done a good job building and growing programs. I knew enough about UT that I knew it was and outstanding place and there is no better conference than the SEC.

AN: You are now very close to your North Carolina roots… does that help make this transition the best of both worlds?

RB: I would have loved to finish at Texas.  I have great love for the University of Texas, there are so many people there I love there, but the good Lord didn’t have it that way, He had other plans that brought us here for some reason. This is a great place where certainly I feel comfortable relating to the people here. Not just on campus, but all of East Tennessee. So it has been a good adjustment, and the players have helped with that by trying to buy into what we are trying to do.

AN: In the SEC’s preseason media poll you guys picked to finish near the bottom of the standings. Do you pay attention to it? Do you care?

RB: I don’t care… and I guess by not paying attention to it I don’t care. At some point in time it could be motivation… here is what people think about us… At some point you want to change that perception. Bottom line is you are who you are until you prove it different. That’s what people have thought… we haven’t even talked about it. We don’t talk about other teams in this league. We’ve talked about ourselves, our team… but we will talk about opponents, put together a game plan, and expect to go out and win every game we play.

AN: Have you talked about team goals?

RB: I think every team starts with a goal and that goal has to be to be a part of the NCAA tournament. You want to play in the postseason. Our goal is to be in the NCAA tournament. That hasn’t changed. When you are part of the NCAA tournament you are one of only 68 teams that can win the whole thing. We know what can happen. It’s not 2 out of 3 or 4 out of 7; it is a one game deal. College basketball been proved anything can happen in 40 minutes. That has to be our goal, but to get to that goal you have to realize that every game matters. If you don’t think every game is a big contest, wait until March when resumes are on the wall and they are looking at what is a good win or a bad loss. Every game is important.