KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Vols have started preparations for their 2023-24 basketball season. Head coach Rick Barnes is working to incorporate several new faces around a returning core of Josiah-Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, and Zakai Zeigler.

“I got a really good call the other night from one of our parents,” said Barnes. “They said it has been the best thing for their son to have those guys be big brothers to them and lead them and show them the way. Blending them is not so much about them getting along together, because I think we have a group of guys who really do care about each other.”

Tennessee’s transfer additions include Dalton Knecht and Jordan Gainey. Knecht shot 38.1% from deep last year with Northern Colorado. Gainey shot 34.5% from distance.

“All of our guards can shoot the ball,” said Tennessee senior guard Santiago Vescovi. “That’s gonna help us big time this year to spread the floor. That opens the court for everyone. All the guys are smart, too. They can make the right read, right pass or shoot it every time. I think it’s going to be a fun year offensively. I think we’re gonna take a little bit of a jump from where it’s been the past few years.”

“I see a lot of double-doubles, hopefully, hopefully, God willing,” said Tennessee junior guard Zakai Zeigler. “I feel like it opens up the court a lot. With Santi, they hug him a lot. They’ll hug Jordan. They’ll hug DK. They’ll hug Josiah. That can be a lot of help for guys like me, Freddie, Jordan, Jahmai to get to the basket and get easy buckets.”

The Vols have traded off adding scoring for a defense that is not quite up to Barnes’ standard yet. The defense has been a work in progress.

“We scrimmaged Saturday, and we only had nine guys available, so we had to use a couple of walk-ons who we are excited about,” said Barnes. “You look at the stat sheet, we made 20 out of 42 threes from the two teams combined, but I really believe the defense was such that I think I could have gotten off a couple of threes, and I can’t even do it anymore.”

“It’s never gonna be the best for coach and that’s what we gotta love out of him,” said Barnes. “We just gotta keep fighting and the day we leave a team on zero, that’s when he’ll be happy.”

The Vols travel to East Lansing for a charity exhibition against Michigan State that will benefit victims of the Maui wildfires on Oct. 29 at 3:30 p.m. Tennessee will open the season on Nov. 6 against Tennessee Tech at 6:30 p.m.