Rick Barnes doesn’t have to seriously think about how Julian Phillips will affect Tennessee basketball.
The Vols coach knows he can use the praised freshman in multiple ways thanks to the versatility that makes Phillips “a whole different weapon in some ways.”
“Offensively, every coach would love to have a guy who can do the things he can do,” Barnes said Monday at the annual Rick Barnes Emerald Youth Golf Classic.
The Vols open preseason practices Tuesday ahead of Barnes’ eighth season.
Phillips was the headliner for Tennessee’s four-man recruiting class of 2022. The 6-foot-8, 198-pound forward gave the Vols a five-star prospect for the fourth straight class. He is the sixth five-star recruit to sign with UT under Barnes, according to the 247Sports Composite.
He’s probably a unique prospect, following the path taken by Kennedy Chandler last season and by Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer the year before.
“He’s very determined to want to be the best player he can be,” Barnes said. “Without a doubt, he’s proven that he’s just a great teammate.”
Phillips, originally from South Carolina, arrived at UT in June. He impressed Barnes with his attitude. Barnes pointed out that Phillips understood what Tennessee was all about and leaned on older players to see how they performed. Josiah-Jordan James, the first five-star prospect and another South Carolina native, helped Phillips transition.
Barnes challenged Phillips to play faster when he arrived in Knoxville. His latest push for Phillips centers on defense, which he stressed will be key as Phillips’ offensive versatility can match his defensive flexibility.
The freshman spent a lot of time working with strength and conditioning coach Garrett Medenwald during summer sessions to add weight. He called Medenwald a “monster” and credited him with consistency.
“He probably spent as much time alone in the weight room, maybe as much time as any player, beyond what we do as a team in the weight room,” Barnes said.
Phillips was the 247Sports Composite’s No. 13 prospect for the Class of 2022. He signed with LSU in November but was released from his letter of intent after Tigers coach Will Wade was fired in March. He chose UT over Auburn, the G League and more. Phillips said in August that the relationship he had with Barnes was paramount in his decision.
Knoxville Catholic product BJ Edwards was the first player in UT’s Class of 2022. Phillips joined in May, then the Vols added guard DJ Jefferson and forward Tobe Awaka.
Tennessee also added Tyreke Key, a high-scoring transfer from Indiana State.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will give you access to it all.