Just as the national championship was about to tip Monday night came word that Rick Barnes had turned down UCLA to stay at Tennessee.
That’s good news not just for the Volunteers but for those who want to see SEC basketball stay strong. (Count me in.) Barnes has done a terrific job in Knoxville, taking Tennessee to an SEC regular-season co-title in 2017-18 and a No. 1 ranking this past season.
Also Monday, Arkansas and Vanderbilt introduced its new coaches. Former Nevada coach Eric Musselman takes over for Mike Anderson at Arkansas. Former Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Jerry Stackhouse replaces Bryce Drew at Vanderbilt. Both have NBA backgrounds.
The 54-year-old Musselman was an assistant coach with the NBA’s Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks before serving as Golden State’s head coach in 2002-2003 and 2003-04. After being fired, he was an assistant with Memphis before being Sacramento’s head coach in 2006-07. He coached in the G League for two seasons before being an assistant at first Arizona State and then LSU.
Musselman took over a Nevada program coming off a 9-22 season. His second year, Musselman took the Wolfpack to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Led by North Carolina State transfers Caleb and Cody Martin, Nevada reached the South Region Sweet 16 semifinal before losing to Loyola of Chicago. (UK lost to Kansas State in the other Atlanta semifinal.)
The 44-year-old Stackhouse starred at North Carolina before an NBA career that lasted from 1995 through 2013. Upon retirement, he entered the coaching ranks as an assistant with the Toronto Raptors before coaching Toronto’s G League team for two seasons. New Vandy AD Malcolm Turner was president of the G League before taking over the Commodores’ athletic program.
Stackhouse was an assistant with the Grizzlies before being introduced in Nashville on Monday. He joked about taking over a program that lost 20 straight games — “I might jump off the top of Memorial (Gym),” he said — and laid out his recruiting pitch.
“I can get any coach in the NBA on the phone. I can get pretty much any GM on the phone. So can Turner. At the same time, you’re gonna get one helluva an education when you come here. That’s the pitch. There’s not much more than that.”
The other important SEC basketball news nugget Monday came from Tuscaloosa where Alabama point guard Kira Lewis has removed his name from the transfer portal and will return for his sophomore season under new Crimson Tide coach Nate Oats.
Lewis follows teammate John Petty, who also removed his name from the transfer portal to stay at Bama. It appears that Oats has staved off the mass exodus that looked imminent after Avery Johnson’s departure.
As for Barnes, the Tennessee coach reportedly agreed to a counter-offer from AD Phil Fulmer after UCLA had made the 64-year-old North Carolina native its top target.
“The last few days have been interesting to say the least. One of the nation’s most tradition-rich college basketball programs identified what we here at Tennessee already knew — that Rick Barnes is one of the game’s elite coaches and a program-changer. His incredible work here at Tennessee over the past four years illustrates that. Additionally, the impact that he and his wife, Candy, have made throughout this community has been immensely inspiring as well,” Fulmer said in a statement.