Rick Barnes, reloading Tennessee basketball roster, hears NIL figures he doesn't believe

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KINGSPORT — Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes doesn’t believe how much money he hears some players are being offered in name, image and likeness deals.

That’s just one challenge he faces in trying to reload the Vols roster, mostly through the transfer portal.

“You’re amazed by certainly some of the (NIL) numbers that are thrown around,” Barnes said at the Big Orange Caravan stop on Thursday. “It really is quite baffling at times. And some of it I don’t think is legit. But you have to get down to what is legit and what’s not.”

The Vols are replenishing their roster after a season when they reached the top 10 and won the SEC Tournament title but suffered an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Four players have jumped into the transfer portal. The most recent departure, 6-foot-10 Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, started the final 13 games of his freshman season. He was the highest rated forward to sign with UT under Barnes when he joined the 2021 class.

But Barnes said he wasn’t surprised that Huntley-Hatfield left after only one season.

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"We wish Brandon the best. We worked really really hard as a staff with every player, not just Brandon. But that’s where we are today,” Barnes said. “If players feel like whatever they’re looking for they can get it elsewhere, they’re going to do it.

“We think we have a great situation, a great program, a great university and the best fan base in the country. There’s a lot of people that want to play at the University of Tennessee.”

Vols basketball roster changes so far

UT has at least four scholarships available for the 2022-23 season after a notable exodus of players. And the transfer portal appears to be a likely source to replenish the roster.

“We understand players want to play. Today it seems like guys want it instantly and they don’t get it right away,” Barnes said. “But I have great respect for guys in our program who understand what goes into being the player they want to be and are willing to work and stay with it.

"They know if they compete, it will happen for them.”

Super senior John Fulkerson used the last of his eligibility.

Victor Bailey and Quentin Diboundje transferred to George Mason and East Carolina, respectively. Huntley-Hatfield and Handje Tamba also entered the transfer portal, but they have not committed to a new school.

Kennedy Chandler declared for the NBA Draft and said he would hire an agent. Santiago Vescovi is going through the NBA Draft process, and Barnes previously said Josiah-Jordan James will do the same. But Vescovi and James are likely to return next season.

The only addition so far is Knoxville Catholic point guard B.J. Edwards, a four-star prospect who signed in November.

UT needs post players, but Barnes said he’s flexible in the pieces he adds. He wants talent, but team chemistry is also important. But in an era where rosters change dramatically each year, winning now takes precedent over building for the future.

“We can go a number of different ways with our roster,” Barnes said. “We’ve got the foundation of our team back. We will fill in around it, but how that goes I honestly can’t tell you.

“We’re always trying to get better right now. We owe that to our older players.”

Reach Adam Sparks at adam.sparks@knoxnews.com and on Twitter @AdamSparks.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Tennessee basketball: Rick Barnes doesn't believe NIL offers he hears