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Rick Barnes: Reputation has led Tennessee's Uros Plavsic to being 'a marked man'

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey03/21/23


The line Tennessee wants Uros Plavsic to walk has been a talking point since December. After picking up a technical foul in the opening minutes of a 75-70 loss at Arizona on December 17, head coach Rick Barnes called out his 7-foot-1, 265-pound Serbian center.

“I’m not happy with Uros,” Barnes said during his postgame press conference. “I’m not happy with his antics. Honestly, I’m really tired of it because I think it hurts our team. We want him to be hard-nosed, physical, but we don’t need the antics. I mean he’s got to be more mature than that.”

The callout led to a long conversation between Barnes and Plavsic. He came away with a different viewpoint and mindset, which became evident in the weeks that followed. 

“He’s here to help me,” Plavsic said of Barnes in January. “Everybody is here to help our guys, so he came to me and we talked about it. That was definitely something I needed to change and I’m still working on it and will keep working on it.”

“(Barnes) obviously has a line that he doesn’t want me to cross,” Plavsic added at the time, “but it’s the not basketball stuff that you don’t want to see on the basketball court. Getting that quick (technical) at Arizona, stuff like that, that I definitely need to get out of my game.”

That reputation may have come back to haunt Plavsic in the opening minutes against Duke on Saturday. Tennessee’s 65-52 win over the Blue Devils, advancing the Vols to the Sweet Sixteen against Florida Atlantic on Thursday, started with two early fouls on Plavsic, who made contact with Duke center Kyle Filipowski. 

The first came after a rebound by Plavsic, with Filipowski hitting the floor. The second came when Plavsic’s attempted to block out Filipowski for another rebound, sending him to the ground once again.

Rick Barnes: ‘You kind of think that he’s a marked man a little bit’

“I think that some of the things that Uros has done through his career,” Barnes said on Monday, “you can become a guy that is a marked man. And I will tell you I do think that the latter part of this year, he got some calls that when you look at it, you kind of think that he’s a marked man a little bit. 

“Probably more so in your conference, but even though you have referees that work our league that work the NCAA (Tournament) and I know that if people knew Uros — and some guys need whatever it is to get them going, whatever that might be.”

But the Vols are always having that conversation Plavsic — exactly where the line is drawn between setting a physical tone and not going too far. 

“We’re always talking to him about ‘don’t do anything that is going to hurt us,’” Barnes said. “We want him to play hard, we want him to do his job. We don’t want to foul regardless of what people might think. We don’t want to foul.”

Tennessee was only called for 11 fouls against Duke on Saturday, tied for the third lowest total of the season. The Vols have 16.7 per game over 35 games this season. 

Part of the problem for Plavsic is simply officiating a player of his size and strength. 

“He is strong,” Barnes said. “He’s big. He’s got really good feet. He’s quicker than more people would probably suspect. Like, his ball-screen defense was terrific against Duke the other night. That’s why he was in there a lot. Because he was doing a really good job there.”

He was doing his job, and what he’s taught to do, on the first foul called against him against Duke.

“There’s things in the post,” Barnes said, “like when he popped his hands back, we teach that. But when he popped them back and I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but his hand went back and hit the Duke player in the face. You’ve got to call the foul. It was inadvertent.” 

Up Next: No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Florida Atlantic, Sweet Sixteen, Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, TBS

Officials went to the monitor to review the foul and didn’t deem to it to be flagrant. 

Either way, Plavsic understands if he does carry a mark into each game. He acknowledges that he’s done his part to earn it.

“Probably because of the things I have done throughout my career,” he said on Monday. “Just that physicality that I bring. I would say other teams don’t like it. Sometimes, some of those plays are not within the rules of basketball and referees call fouls. They remember stuff like that and they talk between each other.”

Either way, Plavsic is trying to play his game within the rules. Provide the physicality Tennessee needs from him down low, without going too far. 

“They know,” Plavsic said of the officials, “but at the same time I am really trying to control that as much as possibly, especially this time of year. I am not trying to make any plays that will hurt my team this time of year.”

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