Inside College Hoops: Rick Barnes is re-energized at Tennessee

The key was getting Katie Ogden on board.

Without her, it wouldn’t work.

So Rick Barnes, Tennessee’s basketball coach, and Tom Satkowiak, Tennessee’s sports information director, reached out to Katie, who is Chris Ogden’s wife, and told her they wanted to prank her husband, the UT assistant, and then the plan was set in motion. Katie told Chris Wednesday night that their three children wanted to bring him breakfast in bed, as they’ve previously done on his birthday. And she instructed him to not set an alarm because they wanted to wake him and surprise him.

“So I was sound asleep [Thursday morning] when all of a sudden I hear … ‘UNO … DOS … TRES!‘” Ogden told me by phone. “It was loud as [expletive]. So I sit up not knowing what’s going on, and then I see these guys in Zorro masks with instruments playing Rocky Top.”

Those guys were the Big Orange Banditos.

In Ogden’s bedroom.

Playing Rocky Top as loud as Rocky Top can be played bright and early in the morning.

“I was so confused,” Ogden said.

Chris Ogden (Provided photo)
The Big Orange Banditos surprise Tennessee assistant coach Chris Ogden. (Provided photo)

Funny story, obviously. But it’s also proof, on some level, that Rick Barnes, a notorious prankster, is back to his old self, and it’s hard not to credit the change of scenery. Barnes spent the previous 17 years at Texas, of course. And despite making 16 NCAA Tournaments in those 17 years, truth is, the final years in Austin were rough from the perspective that fans started focusing more on his shortcomings than positives, and that’s what led Texas to fire Barnes in March even after making the NCAA Tournament again.

And you know what?

Both parties will likely benefit from the divorce.

That’s the reality.

Texas gets a burst thanks to the presence of Barnes’ replacement, Shaka Smart. And those close to Barnes insist he’s undeniably re-energized by his new surroundings and anxious to prove he can still run a top-shelf program the way he did from 2002 to 2008, when his Longhorns made five Sweet Sixteens, three Elite Eights and a Final Four in that span.

Whether he’ll return the Vols to national prominence is, at this point, a guessing-game. But Barnes is motivated. That much is clear. He’s determined to make some noise in college basketball again. And the Big Orange Banditos will assist, if necessary.

NOTES FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY


KENTUCKY WILDCATS Ulis impresses NBA scouts

I’ve communicated with multiple NBA scouts who were at Kentucky‘s combine earlier this week, and, without exception, they all told me Tyler Ulis helped himself in their eyes. Yes, each scout really liked Skal Labissiere, which isn’t surprising given how most project the freshman forward to be the top pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. But Ulis was the player who helped himself most, I was told, and there’s now reason to believe the sophomore will someday secure a spot in the NBA despite being just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds.

“I think people see Ulis as an NBA player now — not as a high pick, but as the next tiny guy that makes it,” one scout told me. “And Charles Matthews probably helped himself, too.”


ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI More bad news for Fighting Illini

Pretty much every program is dealing with injuries on some level. But I can’t imagine any high-major team has been hit as hard as Illinois has been hit.

The Illini have lost Tracy Abrams for the season to a torn Achilles. Leron Black is out four weeks with a knee injury. Jalen Coleman-Lands is recovering from a leg injury. Jaylon Tate is out with a concussion. And now Kendrick Nunn is sidelined by a thumb injury.

“You know you’re in an interesting situation when a doctor … says, “Hey, the guy is going to be out four weeks,” and you go, ‘Yes!’” Illinois coach John Groce said, point being that only losing a player for four weeks amounts to a positive for Illinois these days.


LOUISVILLE CARDINALS Questions raised about age of escorts

Katina Powell, the madam who claims she provided Louisville players and recruits with escorts after negotiating a deal with former assistant Andre McGee, spoke with The Courier-Journal on Friday. She didn’t say much of substance, really. But one thing worth following is whether a claim Powell has made leads to legal issues.

In a book co-authored with Pulitzer Prize winner Dick Cady, Powell wrote that two of her daughters were 15 and 17 when she began supplying them to players and prospects, which led to Thomas B. Wine, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, explaining how she could be prosecuted for involving minors in illegal activities. In response, Powell’s lawyer, Larry Wilder, said Powell’s daughters weren’t actually underage when they engaged.

So which is it?

Were they underage or not?

And will this prevent Powell from speaking with the NCAA?

I ask that third question because Powell might be hesitant to double-down on her allegation that her daughters were underage escorts working for her out of fear of prosecution. And, even if she does talk, if she changes that part of her story, Louisville officials could argue the rest of her story also can’t be trusted.

Of course, the NCAA might not even need Powell to ultimately charge Louisville with Level I violations if it gets enough corroborating evidence from former UL recruits, players and staff members. But Powell already had no real reason to ever speak with the NCAA, and now she has an obvious reason to keep completely quiet. And that could end up being good news for Louisville, which hasn’t had much good news lately.

FINAL THOUGHT

SMU‘s players — not the administration or the coaching staff; just the players — made headlines this week when they released a statement to CBS Sports in which they expressed frustration about how they feel they’re being unfairly punished by the NCAA “for things we had nothing to do with and over which we had no control.”

And it’s hard to argue with them, frankly.

Yes, violations happened at SMU, and the players don’t deny it. But, like they said, the violations had nothing to do with them, and they had no control over them. And yet, after the Fall semester had already started, they learned their goal of making another trip to the NCAA Tournament had been taken away via a postseason ban for the 2015-16 season.

Me?

I’m against postseason bans because they always punish innocent student-athletes.

I don’t like that.

Regardless, the NCAA insists on issuing them. So whatever. But one way to avoid punishing innocent student-athletes at a time in the calendar when they have no recourse is to make the following policy: If a postseason ban is levied after a semester launching a school year has started, the postseason ban has to be for the following season and not the upcoming or current season. Then, after the upcoming or current season is over, all student-athletes are free to transfer with a waiver to play immediately, if they want.

(Seems reasonable, right?)

In other words, according to my suggested policy, SMU’s postseason ban would be for the 2017 NCAA Tournament, not the 2016 NCAA Tournament. That way Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy would get to have meaningful senior seasons, and then the rest of SMU’s roster could decide after this season if they want to stay at SMU or transfer. Obviously, this could lead to programs being decimated by transfers, but so what? Let’s just chalk that up as part of the possible punishment for cheating and be glad the byproduct would leave the school and its coaches — but not the unpaid student-athletes who typically bear no responsibility — to endure the tough times, which is the way it ought to be any way.

Rick Barnes (USATSI)
Rick Barnes enters his first season at Tennessee after 17 seasons at Texas. (USATSI)

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