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After Rick Barnes told Jonas Aidoo how good he could be, Jonas Aidoo went out and showed it

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey01/07/24


Rick Barnes Talks Sec Opener Against Ole Miss

Rick Barnes described the ensuing statement as being “brutally honest.” But it was more oblivious than anything, coming from the veteran Tennessee head coach who accepts nothing short of perfection from his players.

“I have a hard time complimenting people,” Barnes said Saturday night

After drawing a laugh from reporters who have watched Barnes in practice, he continued. 

“Because I think sometimes, when you compliment guys, I think they let up,” Barnes said. “I think you got to live on the edge there.”

The only edge in the conversation Barnes recently had with Jonas Aidoo was the one he was trying to push Aidoo over. The compliment was Barnes trying to explain just how elite of a player his 6-foot-11 junior center can be.

“He and I had a long talk the other day after practice,” Barnes said, “and I just told him how good I thought he was. And I said, Jonas, you know, you’re so much better than you’re playing. And I said I think you’re as good as anybody if you’re willing to do what you need to do day in and day out. 

“And I believe that because Jonas is just a wonderful person, great kid, love being around him. I told him, I said, I’ve got really high expectations for you.”

Aidoo met those expectations as No. 5 Tennessee hammered No. 22 Ole Miss 90-64 in the SEC opener Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena. He scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 31 minutes, his third double-double of the season. 

‘I promise you what Jonas did tonight, he made it happen’

“He keeps talking to me every once in a while,” Aidoo said, “just telling me how good I can be. So just him believing in me, just giving me those words and confidence is just everything to me.

“He’s a hard coach sometimes … but I love Coach Barnes. You know, he’s always hard on us. He’s just one to push us to be the best.”

He has pushed Aidoo in a different way most of the season.

After Tennessee’s 100-92 loss to North Carolina on November 29, when Aidoo had 13 points before fouling out in just 21 minutes, Barnes said the Vols were “going to establish” Aidoo in the post and that he could be one of the best forwards in college basketball. 

Aidoo answered with 60 points over his next three games — 17 against George Mason, 14 against Illinois and a career-high 29 against Georgia Southern — and had 22 rebounds. 

But when Jahmai Mashack was read the quote from Barnes, that complimenting players isn’t his strong suit, the junior wing couldn’t help but smile wide. 

“That’s one of the truest quotes I’ve ever heard from Coach Barnes,” Mashack said. “He’s definitely not the type, but that’s just because he doesn’t want complacency. He doesn’t want you thinking that you’ve made it, that you’ve gotten somewhere where he knows you can get even further. So you definitely just take it as as it comes.”

Up Next: No. 5 Tennessee at Mississippi State, Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, SEC Network

Clearly, Mashack gets the point Barnes is trying to make. He explained it the same way Barnes did. 

“As much as I want to,” Barnes said, “I hold back because I’ve been burned, where I just want more. And I keep telling them they got to want it, they got to want more. They got to want to keep climbing.”

The climb isn’t straight up, Barnes continued. Using his hands for a visual, he said it’s more like climbing stairs, moving up one step at a time.

“Can they keep climbing some way every day?” He asked. “A little bit. That’s what I want to see. And oftentimes when guys have success, it’s just human nature to let it go and think it’s just going to happen. It’s not going to just happen.”

Aidoo is Tennessee’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11.4 points per game and inching closer to Dalton Knecht (15.1), and is averaging 7.0 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game, all career highs.

But Barnes will keep finding a way to keep his players humble, with a few compliments mixed in.

“I promise you what Jonas did tonight, he made it happen,” Barnes said. “What (Mashack) did, they made it happen. They’ve trained hard, they’ve worked hard. But it’s going to get harder in Starkville, I promise you that. It’s going to be harder. And every week after that, it’s going to get harder.”

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