Others might not like Vols’ VJ Bailey, ‘but his teammates do’

Victor Bailey Jr. sat down with GoVols247 for a candid chat before a Tennessee practice in October and said all the right things.

The senior left-handed guard said he knew he had a reputation for being a very striated offensive player and a poor defensive player, and he said he had spent months trying to change those two things. He said he wanted to be more of a consistent offensive threat, not just a trigger shooter who could score 30 points one night and blank the next two games, and the only way to fix that was a more complete game. and repeatable. arsenal. He said he wanted to stop hearing from the head coach Rick Barnes remind him practically every day that he’s often the best athlete and the worst defender on the pitch, and the only way to do that was to improve as a defender. He said he knew the talent level of the top four scouts, Barnes and his staff had just been added to the roster for a second straight year, and that the only way to retain a leading role was to produce coherent way.

Bailey was self-aware, but he exuded the caring confidence that comes with a work ethic that no one in the program questions. The 6-foot-4 Texas native has world-class genes — his dad was an NFL wide receiver and his mom was an Olympic hurdler — but he also has a physique that proves just how hard he works.

Tennessee senior guard Victor Bailey Jr. (Photo: Bryan Lynn, USA TODAY Sports)

Everything was in place for Bailey to seize the moment. He left a good situation at Oregon to be transferred to Tennessee – something he wanted to do when he and his Oregon teammates ran into Tennessee players in the tunnel on a weekend second-rounder of the NCAA Tournament in Louisville in 2019, and neither of the Ducks could avoid discussing the towering size and athleticism of the Vols – although he knows he would almost certainly have to sit out an entire season for do it.

This season, it was time for “VJ” to put everything in place.

“I know what kind of player I can be, and I have worked [to do it]Bailey said this afternoon. “I’m ready to go.”

But the season has started. It didn’t go well.

And it hasn’t improved. It got worse.

Bailey averaged 24.7 minutes on the ground last season, and that’s nearly halved to 13.7 this season. He’s only played double-digit minutes once in the last five games, and that game was the trip to Alabama that only two starters (freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler and senior All-SEC forward John Fulkerson) missed after testing positive for Covid-19.

In Tennessee’s best game of the season — a 77-73 win over sixth-seeded Arizona on Dec. 22 — Bailey played one minute.

In another of Tennessee’s best outings of the season — an 87-72 boat race against 18th-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 21 — Bailey played six minutes.

In a 45-minute overtime win over Ole Miss last weekend, Bailey played two minutes.

Bailey has played a total of 17 minutes in the last two games – a loss to 12th-ranked LSU, a 66-46 win over South Carolina. He shot 1 of 3 from three in that win over the Gamecocks, taking his season average to… 22.4 percent from behind the arc.

Things don’t go well for Bailey, and student-athletes in Tennessee have nowhere to hide in times like these. Fan forums like GoVols247’s CheckerBoard. Social media sites. Local sports radio. All apparently spent part of the day openly discussing why Bailey is still in the rotation, even in a significantly reduced role.

Barnes offered an answer to those kinds of questions during his Wednesday appearance at the Big Orange Tip-Off Club in Knoxville.

According to Barnes, belief and support for Bailey remains strong within the program.

(Photo: Bryan Lynn, USA TODAY Sports)

In short, they know what Bailey can do, and they know how hard he works every day, and they have no doubt that things will change for the better. They want Bailey in their fox hole.

“If you ask our players which player they shoot the most for, that they want to do well, somebody guesses which player you think it would be,” Barnes said. “That’s where the fans really don’t know everything. VJ Bailey. Not even close. Our guys, if you knew how hard this kid worked…he’s struggling, like the guys. He did everything he could do. Corn [he has] the best attitude.

“I asked him in front of the team the other night, ‘VJ, have you ever thought about how many minutes a night you’d be able to play?’ Do you know what he said? I can’t think of that. Here’s what I’m thinking: When I get in the game, I want to do whatever I can to help you win. When I’m not not in the game i promise i’m shooting as hard as i can for you guys i don’t want anyone to be wrong.

“His teammates believe in him. They love him, because they know he works, he struggles, and how many of you don’t like winning the game? I hear it all the time. You know what, not only is he clinging to the rope, he’s trying to climb it. We don’t have enough of these guys doing that, to be quite honest – these younger guys, guys coming off the bench.

“That’s what we need from the guys on the bench – who want to play, who Lord knows their parents think they should be playing. I promise you, I promise you, our guys know who should be playing. And you’d be amazed how many times they’ll tell us, ‘Hey, we need him in the game.’ They love VJ Bailey. Someone else does it, his teammates love him.

Bailey and the 22nd-ranked Vols play 18th-ranked Kentucky at 1 p.m. ET Saturday at Rupp Arena in a game that will be broadcast by ESPN.

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