Victor Bailey Jr. was standing in the tunnel of Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center when he got a major impression of Tennessee basketball.
“I remember being at the Sweet 16 and watching Tennessee walk past us in the tunnel and seeing how big and strong those guys looked,” said Bailey, who was an Oregon guard at the time waiting to face Virginia in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Two months later, Bailey transferred to Tennessee and sat out last season. He worked to add strength and learn more about playing point guard.
But Bailey’s main priority was off the court.
“I wanted to understand everything about Tennessee,” Bailey said. “I really wanted to submerge myself in the culture and be part of it and just not look back. Give my all to Tennessee and that is what I have been trying to do.”
Bailey spoke repeatedly about the culture at Tennessee on Friday.
The junior guard said it sold him as a transfer and removed some of the sting of sitting out a season. He saw players working hard on his first day and watched coaches invested in players. He sat down with strength and conditioning coach Garrett Medenwald, whom he described as “meticulous” in his approach to getting players better.
“Everybody is always working and trying to help each other and you can feel that right when you walk in,” Bailey said. “When I walked in, I felt it. I felt everyone was trying to get better and everybody had a common goal. I enjoyed being around that and being around it now.”
The 6-foot-4 Bailey played in 73 games in two seasons at Oregon. He averaged 7.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 19.1 minutes per game as a sophomore. He started eight games in his final season as a Duck, but his playing time plummeted late in the season.
He decided to leave.
Tennessee was an obvious choice. Bailey knew Vols coach Rick Barnes having grown up in Austin, Texas, and around Texas, where his mom, Tonja Buford-Bailey, coaches track and field. Bailey, the No. 86 recruit in the country in the 2017 class according to the 247Sports Composite, was also recruited by Vols assistant coach Kim English when English was at Tulsa.
The culture Bailey experienced when he visited Knoxville in June 2019 made it a perfect destination.
“You know you’re going to get better,” Bailey said. “You don’t really have an option. You either get better or you’re going to be watching and no one wants to be watching. Everybody is pushing everybody and everybody wants to get better, because that’s the culture and either you buy in or you won’t be a part of it.”
Bailey is one of Tennessee’s top options at guard along with sophomores Josiah Jordan-James and Santiago Vescovi. Tennessee also added five-star recruits Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, both of whom Bailey said have impressed early at UT.
The talent excites Bailey and fits right into the culture he spent a year absorbing: It’s only going to make everyone better.
“At the end of the day, that is all we want to do is push each other to get better,” Bailey said. “It is easy to do that when you have guys who are so talented. It forces you to be at your best every day.”
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.