Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has guided his veteran team to the No. 1 ranking in college basketball, but he wants his players to finish their careers keeping sports in perspective.
“I hope we’ve taught these guys how to grow up and be good Christian guys, men,” Barnes, who is known for this faith, told the media this week. “[We] want to understand that this is all kind of fleeting, so we’ve just got to take advantage of it while it’s here.”
Barnes’ team has been one of the surprises in college basketball the past two seasons. The Volunteers were picked to finish 13th in the Southeastern Conference during the 2017-18 season but tied for the championship and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons. Tennessee began this season as a Top 10 team and climbed to the top spot thanks in part to a win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga.
Two of his players – junior Grant Williams and senior Admiral Schofield – are on the for the Wooden national player of the year award.
Barnes has been a Christian for a long time but became more serious about his faith more than a decade ago, his children told His son, Nick, who is a missionary, said the family went from being cultural Christians to God-centered Christians.
“I mean, as the Scripture would say, [he] lived out a new creation, a new person – just much more peace, affection,” Nick told the newspaper. “He was a great dad. I had a wonderful childhood. But it’s just the anchor in his soul and just the perspective on life and work.
“I think the way he sees basketball now is not only win a lot of games, but get to pour into young guys and love on them. I think that was always there, but now to a much greater degree.”
Barnes’ daughter, Carley, agreed.
“I think he really started taking his faith more seriously and all the conviction for life change kind of came from that,” Carley told the News-Sentinel.
Several of Tennessee’s players list Bible verses on their social media profiles. Faith is a topic often discussed. In one recent starter Kyle Alexander called teammate Jordan Bowden his “brother in Christ” while wishing him a Happy Birthday. The Tweet showed Bowden dancing to a song by gospel artist Kirk Franklin.