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 Top 25 watch list for the Wooden national player of the year award.
Prior to arriving at Tennessee, Barnes coached Providence, Clemson and then Texas, where he led two teams to the Elite Eight and a third team to the Final Four. He coached future NBA players Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford and D. J. Augustin.
Barnes has been a Christian for a long time but became more serious about his faith more than a decade ago, his children told the Knoxville News-Sentinel. 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 Tweet, 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.
Barnes said he formerly placed too much importance on basketball.
“At one time, I think I made all the mistakes coaches can make, thinking, making it more important,” Barnes said. “It's important because it’s what we do. I think God has created everything we do. I think He created basketball. I think it’s the platform that we're supposed to use to be teachers and mentors of young people.”
He begins each morning with quiet time.
“The most important thing when I get out of bed in the morning is not this job, but to spend some time alone with the Lord and make sure I get my day started the right way,” Barnes said last year. “That’s been the biggest change in my coaching career. … The Bible says that there is a lot called, but few are chosen. I want to be one of the chosen ones.”
Michael Foust is a freelance writer. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com.
Photo courtesy: Tommy Bebo/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, The Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.