After spending 17 seasons in Austin as the head coach at Texas, Rick Barnes will coach his first season at Tennessee this winter. The good news for Barnes from a personnel standpoint is that many of the key contributors from last season are back in Knoxville, including five of the team’s top six scorers.
The negative: the lone player who isn’t back is versatile guard Josh Richardson, a second-round pick of the Miami Heat who led the Vols in scoring, assists and steals and ranked third on the team in rebounding.
So while Barnes works to establish his culture within the program he’s also faced with the task of accounting for the many ways in which Richardson kept last season’s team competitive in spite of turmoil surrounding then coach Donnie Tyndall. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, one player who’s helped from a culture standpoint this summer has been senior guard Kevin Punter.
“(Punter’s) work ethic, the way he’s handled things, I told Shembari (Phillips) today, I said, ‘If you’re smart, you’ll hitch your wagon to Kevin, and every time he’s in here you should want to be with him,'” Barnes said. “When you’ve got a guy that’s willing to put that much time in and show that much passion, that’s something you want to develop in your program, and you hope it’s handed down through the years.”
Punter, who averaged 10.3 points per game in his first season at Tennessee, has been the team’s hardest worker and serves as an example for the program’s five newcomers. That quintet includes three perimeter players in Phillips, Lamonte’ Turner and Admiral Schofield. Setting the tone for those players this summer is especially important, as they’ll be asked to be leaders after Tennessee’s four scholarship seniors (Punter, Armani Moore, Devon Baulkman and Derek Reese) move on at the conclusion of this upcoming season.
With Richardson out of the picture Tennessee has a void in its primary playmaker role, one that Punter will be asked to help fill. Whether or not he can do so won’t be learned until the team starts playing games, but at the very least he’s been a good leader for this group during summer workouts.