KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee basketball head coach Rick Barnes spoke with the media on Thursday for the first time since the Vols fell to Michigan in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee won its first SEC Tournament Championship since 1979, defeating Texas A&M, 65-50.
Less than a week later, the Vols' season came to a sudden halt.
"It's really hard when the season comes to an end, and you know when you've been doing it as long as I have, only one team is going to be really, truly ecstatic," Barnes said on the NCAA Tournament loss. "I've said it before—you lose in the championship game, semifinal game, you lose. It's such a sudden halt that it's tough, especially when you have high expectations and want it all."
Freshman standout Kennedy Chandler declared for the NBA Draft on Tuesday. Chandler was the Vols leader in scoring, assists and steals last season.
Barnes said he encouraged Chandler to enter the NBA Draft process.
"The best compliment I could give Kennedy was how he always kept wanting to get better," Barnes said. "It took him a little bit to adjust to the game which you would expect at the college level, not just practice, but the grind that goes into it. What Santi (Vescovi) and Zakai (Zeigler) did for Kennedy and each other is the reason we got such good play from all three of those guys all year."
Barnes also addressed freshman guard Quentin Diboundje's future at Tennessee as he played limited minutes for the Vols last season.
"Quentin has a decision to make," Barnes said on the freshman. "He wants to play. We've had some talks about it with him and there is some possibility that he is going to leave, which if he does, he'll go to East Carolina with coach (Mike) Schwartz. Mike is going to hire a great friend of ours from France who helped us recruit Yves (Pons), Quentin, and some other guys. We all respect Quentin but I think that's what's going to happen. It hasn't become official, but it's going to happen."
Mike Schwartz was hired as East Carolina's head basketball coach during the NCAA Tournament.
Tennessee junior guard Santiago Vescovi also announced in March that he would go through the NBA Draft process. Barnes said he also encouraged Vescovi to test the NBA waters.
"I think it's important for all of them," Barnes said on testing the NBA. "I think if you have the opportunity to do that and I think when the time comes that they feel like they're ready to do that, I think they need to do it. I do. Because a year from now, Santi will have a lot of different options he can do, it's like a test run for him. Where they can get there and get feedback."
Vescovi and Chandler accounted for 27 points per game for the Vols.
Tennessee will add Knoxville Catholic shooting guard B.J. Edwards to its team next season. Barnes said Edwards can be a player that comes in and makes an immediate impact in Chandler's absence.
"We think BJ has a terrific future ahead of him," Barnes said about Edwards. "He has a good feel for the game and understands how to play basketball. Like all freshmen coming in, he'll need to get his body to get in the shape he needs to compete at this level. He'll continue to work on all parts of his game, but we're excited about him because he can give us some versatility and play any of the three perimeter spots on the court."
Tennessee finished the 2021-2022 season undefeated at home, going 27-8 overall and 14-4 in SEC play.