Basketball season is near — when exactly it begins, nobody knows for sure. But soon, Tennessee will hit the hardwood with potential to be one of the best teams in the entire country again.
Building off of a down year, Tennessee was able to develop Yves Pons and John Fulkerson into legitimate forces. They were also able to bring along freshman point guard Santiago Vescovi, who didn’t land on the roster until late December. He was thrown into the fire out of necessity, following a season-ending surgery for Lamonte Turner.
The results? Mixed. But the potential upside was obvious. Vescovi will get a chance to further develop as a sophomore this season, now with a full offseason — although modified — in Tennessee’s system.
Excitement around Tennessee is centered around their top-five recruiting class, which features two five-star guards. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer are two of the highest ranked prospects that Tennessee has ever landed, and they now get a chance to merge into an already experienced roster.
Since Vescovi has now had a chance to see everyone in action, he was asked about what they will bring to the table this season for the Volunteers.
“Starting with Keon, I think he’s really athletic and he can also shoot the ball,” Vescovi said this week. “I think he’s really quick, strong, and he’s also tall and long. He’s a really good player. Jaden is really talented. He’s also athletic, but he just plays the way he feels and that makes him a really good player. His instincts are good. Corey Walker can really shoot the ball. He’s also a big man, so he can really crash the board.”
Walker is a four-star prospect who will likely find time off the bench in the frontcourt.
More depth in the frontcourt was a must for Rick Barnes after last season. Tennessee didn’t get much done when Fulkerson and Pons went to the bench, as Uros Plavsic, Drew Pember and Olivier Nkamhoua struggled to make an immediate impact. 6-6 guard Josiah-Jordan James even spent time in sort of a hybrid role, helping Tennessee out on the boards.
Not only will Plavsic, Pember and Nkamhoua get an offseason to develop, but Tennessee also added one of the most productive transfers in the country. E.J. Anosike will make a big impact for the Volunteers, likely coming off of the bench. He’s going to bring toughness and strength to the team in the post, something that was obviously missing from last year’s team.
“Talking about E.J, he’s a unit,” Vescovi said. “You cannot stop him going to the rim. I would rather just move to the side rather than staying in front of him. He’s super strong, and he’s really good at crashing the glass and getting offensive rebounds. He’s also good at having the ball—he can read the defense and he can make good passes.”
That sounds like the exact opposite of Tennessee’s bench situation from a year ago.
Rick Barnes said last week that he was working on finalizing a schedule for the upcoming non-conference season, but things remain up in the air. Several of these traditional early season tournaments have already been canceled or moved, while the NCAA has approved multi-team events for this season.
Whenever and however college basketball season happens, it should be a fun one for Tennessee fans.