The call of a lifetime: Rick Barnes surprises UT senior

Orange & White Nation

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – In late April, Evan Newell sat at his computer looking for the words to wrap up his farewell to The Daily Beacon and the place he’d called home for his undergrad years, the University of Tennessee.

“It’s funny, I was really just trying to close the thing (his column) out,” Newell explained. “I was looking for a couple of lines, and one of them I wanted to be kind of funny, right?”

In the third to last paragraph of his column, Newell wrote:

“Sure, there are plenty of things I might have done differently. I didn’t read as much as I would’ve liked to. I didn’t always focus my attention particularly well. I never did get the chance to talk basketball with Rick Barnes.”

“I’ve always really looked up to him and really enjoyed you know, watching him from afar,” Newell said of the Vols basketball coach. “There was no chance in my mind that that was going to turn into anything.”

Twelve days after Newell’s article was published, he took a call from an unknown number.

“It was just a random number from Austin, Texas,” he recalled. “I almost didn’t pick it up cause I, you know; I was like, well, it’s probably a telemarketer or something like that.”

Spoiler Alert: It was not a telemarketer. Rick Barnes was on the phone.

The column had been brought to the attention of Tennessee’s basketball’s coach, after reading it he wanted to ensure one of those “should-haves” could be checked of Newell’s list.

“He asked me a little bit about my plans and about how I was doing and what I was planning to do next year,” Newell said rehashing the conversation. “Then I just started asking him about what sort of team they planned out next year and about some of the senior guys and what they’re up to.”

Newell said Barnes, like many, told him he’s optimistic about next season believing with the returning players and incoming recruits the Vols have a chance to do something really special next season.

“He was just talking like it was any other conversation,” he said. “It didn’t feel like cookie-cutter answers or as if he was being super reserved. That was incredible.”

Newell’s senior year was cut short and as a result of COVID-19 many of those final memories on Rocky Top were taken from him. The call from Barnes ensured he had at least one more to wrap up his time at Tennesee.

“It was just another thing to, you know, make me feel rooted in this place and feel a connection to what this place is,” Newell said.

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