Football season is in full swing and the temperature in East Tennessee is dropping, meaning basketball season is right around the corner.
Tennessee’s men’s basketball team has been practicing since September, preparing to take the court for an exhibition against Lenoir-Rhyne on Oct. 30. The Vols will open up their regular season with a game against UT Martin on Nov. 9.
In 2020-21, the Vols had a mixture of young talent in Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer and old talent in Yves Pons and John Fulkerson. The season was turbulent, as the team bounced up and down the rankings and ultimately finished unranked in the final AP poll. They secured a five seed in the NCAA Tournament but were dismantled by 12 seed Oregon State.
Following the season, the Vols lost Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer and Yves Pons to the NBA, and Davonte Gaines, EJ Anosike, Drew Pember and Corey Walker Jr to the transfer portal. However, Tennessee replenished its roster with a coveted transfer and the No. 4 recruiting class in 2021, which leads the SEC.
AP Poll – 18
Coaches Poll – 20
CBS – 20
Head Coach – Rick Barnes
Barnes enters his seventh season at the helm of the men’s basketball program. In his tenure, he coached a No. 1 ranked team, made a Sweet Sixteen appearance, won an SEC regular season title and earned a Naismith Coach of the Year award. In his last four seasons on Rocky Top, he boasts a 92-38 record. He has coached 29 players who have gone on to be drafted in the NBA in his 35-year coaching career. The Volunteers on the list are Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone, Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer. Other notable picks at his past stops include TJ Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, PJ Tucker, Kevin Durant, DJ Augustin, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson and Myles Turner.
Associate Head Coach – Michael Schwartz
This is Schwartz’s sixth year on staff and his third year as associate head coach. For the past four seasons, Barnes has appointed Schwartz as the defensive coordinator. This has seen great results as last season the Vols posted the fourth-best defensive efficiency rating according to KenPom.com, their second Top-10 finish in the last four years. They also finished atop the SEC in scoring defense in both 2018 and 2021. Additionally, Schwartz carries a large load in the opponent scouting department.
Assistant Coach – Justin Gainey
This will be Gainey’s first year with the team after joining in April. He has 15 years of Division 1 coaching and administrative experience including stops at NC State, Elon, Appalachian St, Marquette, Santa Clara and Arizona. He is a key recruiter who has already played an important role in Tennessee’s upcoming recruiting cycles.
Assistant Coach – Rod Clark
At the young age of 28, Clark has quickly risen through the ranks of collegiate coaching. This is his third year as a collegiate assistant coach and his first in Knoxville. He previously coached at Illinois-Chicago and Austin Peay. Clark’s biggest strength is player development, as he has already helped develop NBA players Tyrese Maxey and Shaq Harrison along with Gonzaga star Drew Timme.
Director of Men’s Basketball Sports Performance – Garrett Medenwald
This will be Medenwald’s seventh year in the position where he has shown to be one of the best in the country. He focuses on basketball-specific training methods and injury prevention. Medenwald is a proven player developer who has trained elite athletes. In 2019, Jordan Bone performed the best out of all prospects in the no-step vertical leap, lane agility drill, shuttle run and three-quarter court sprint. In 2021, Keon Johnson demolished the combines all-time max vertical jump record that was previously in place for 20 years.
Gr. F. – John Fulkerson #10
After he completes his sixth season this year, Fulkerson will have spent a fourth of his life as a member of the Tennessee basketball program. The 24-year old redshirted his first year on campus after getting injured early in the season and has now opted to utilize the new rule implemented due to Covid-19 and return for another season. If he plays in just 11 games this season, he will break Tennessee’s all-time games played record with 143 appearances.
Fulkerson became a key component for Tennessee’s teams in the last few seasons. After starting just seven games in his first three seasons, he was named a starter 55 times in his last two. He shined in the 2019-20 season, averaging 13.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He has also exploded in individual game performances, including 27 points in a win over No. 8 Kentucky in 2020. His stats took a dip in the 2020-21 season but he was still an integral part of the team and a valuable leader in the locker room. With five years of Tennessee basketball already under his belt, he will provide valuable knowledge through his experience to the younger players.
Jr. G. – Josiah-Jordan James #30
In his third year on Rocky Top, James will ditch his old number 5 and switch to 30 to honor his father and brother who wore the same number. James was a top-20 prospect out of high school and has a family with a rich history of college hoops, as four of his uncles also played at the collegiate level. He is widely projected to be a draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
James is listed at six-foot-six, making him a versatile player who can handle the ball like a guard while also defending forwards. His defense is his biggest strength and this year he will be thrust into a leadership position on the defensive end. His exceptional athleticism helps on both sides of the ball. In his first two seasons, he has averaged 7.7 points, 6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. This year, he will look to take on more of a scoring role while still locking down on defense.
Sr. G. – Victor Bailey Jr #12
Bailey is the son of Olympic bronze medalist hurdler Tonya Buford-Bailey and former NFL wide receiver Victor Bailey Sr. He started his career at Oregon where he played his first two seasons. He said he saw the 2019 Volunteer basketball team walk past him in the tunnel at the NCAA Tournament and was astonished at the size of the players. Just two months later, he officially transferred to Tennessee.
Bailey is a sharpshooter who revolves his game around the long ball. He shot 33.8% from three last season, but averages of 36.4% and 39.8% during his tenure at Oregon suggest it was an off-year for him. He will be expected to shoot at a higher clip from three this season, though, as he will shoulder more of the scoring load. Well over half of his field goal attempts came from behind the arch last year, but when he was at close range he shot 40.2% on all field goals. Last season, he averaged 10.9 points per game and exploded for a career-high of 29 points against South Carolina. He was the team’s third-leading scorer throughout the season.
Jr. G. – Santiago Vescovi #25
Vescovi joined the program in the middle of the 2019-20 season after spending time with the NBA Global Academy in Australia. After joining, he was shoved into a starting role in all 19 of his appearances his freshman season. He also previously spent time at the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City. Originally, Vescovi is from Montevideo, Uruguay. His grandfather, Daniel Vannet, was also an Uruguayan basketball star.
Vescovi is a lights-out shooter from deep, shooting 37.3% from downtown last season. His freshman year saw him handling the ball and commanding the offense because of injuries and a lack of depth, but he is naturally an off-ball player. With Jaden Springer at the point last year, he became a more efficient shooter by raising his field goal and three-point percentages. Kennedy Chandler’s addition to run the offense sets up Vescovi to have another effective year. He averages 9.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his two years in Knoxville.
Jr. F. – Olivier Nkamhoua #13
Nkamhoua is originally from Finland but he attended high school in Maryland. This past summer, he competed with the Finnish National Team in Okinawa, Japan. He played in matches against Belgium, Hungary and Japan and has positioned himself to play with Finland in the future in their hopes of qualifying for the 2024 Olympics.
Nkamhoua is known for his hustle and defense off the bench. He only averaged 2.9 points per game in his two years but is a strong rebounder and rim protector. He may not be much of a scoring threat, but when around the rim he is efficient, shooting 56.5%. Barnes has used him as a defensive specialist before, and with two years of experience under his belt, he could play a larger part on the team this season.
Jr. F. – Uros Plavsic #33
Plavsic is a native of Cacak, Serbia and he originally committed to Arizona State. He only played in their exhibition match and then redshirted the rest of the season. He was granted eligibility for the next season midway through his freshman year but has seen limited action since. He has previously competed against NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and NBA center Ivica Zubac.
As only the sixth seven-foot tall player in program history, Plavsic uses his height to his advantage. He plays solid defense around the rim, but could be more aggressive rebounding the ball. He had a slow start to his 2020-21 campaign but gained the coaches’ trust by the end of the season. He started his only game of the season in the NCAA Tournament and gave quality bench minutes in the SEC Tournament. He is solid on defense but needs to improve on the offensive side of the ball in order to see more playing time.
So. G. – Justin Powell #24
The Volunteers only transfer of the offseason was Powell. He spent his freshman season playing for Auburn where he only appeared in 10 games until he was ruled out for the season after suffering a head injury. In his limited time with the Tigers, he started seven games and averaged 27.5 minutes a game. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week on Dec. 14, 2020, after combining for 52 points in Auburn’s two games.
Powell is known for his shooting skills, as he has the ability to get blazing hot from three. He scored 26 points in a game twice while with Auburn, including a seven three-point performance against South Alabama. He shot 42.9% from the field and 44.2% from three averaging 11.7 points per game in his 10 appearances. He also used his six-foot-six frame to reel in 6.1 rebounds per game. His defense is above average but still has room for improvement.
Fr. G. – Kennedy Chandler #1
Although Chandler was born in Tennessee, he graduated from Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas. He was a five-star prospect who was rated as the top point guard in the 2021 class by ESPN. They also ranked him as the No. 12 2021 recruit in the country. This lands him as the third highest-ranked recruit in Tennessee history after Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson. This summer, he was named to the USA U19 team, which gold medaled in the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup. He played in seven games and averaged 7.7 points per contest on 42% shooting.
Chandler has great athleticism and playmaking skills as a point guard. He uses this athleticism to finish around the rim and through contact with ease. He also has an effective three-point shot that he utilizes when open. His all-around game will set him up for a productive season within Tennessee’s system. As a senior in high school, he averaged 14.8 points, 6.4 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game on 57% shooting from the field, 50% from deep and 94% from the line.
Fr. F. – Brandon Huntley-Hatfield #2
Huntley-Hatfield graduated from Scotland Campus Prep in Pennsylvania. He originally was in the 2022 class where he was considered the fourth-best prospect in the nation by ESPN. After reclassifying to the 2021 class, he is now considered the 19th best player in the class. He also played AAU ball for the BMaze Elite Program, which was founded by former Volunteer point guard Bobby Maze.
Huntley-Hatfield is an elite scorer at all three levels. He has the size of an NBA power forward but still has impressive body control and a tight handle. He is super athletic and can finish with both hands. This, along with his efficient shooting, makes him an all-around offensive threat. His biggest flaw is his room for improvement on the defensive end, though. Considering Tennessee’s emphasis on defense, however, he should be able to enhance his game on that side of the ball. Nevertheless, his offensive skills will likely lead to solid playing time.
Fr. F. – Jonas Aidoo #0
Aidoo graduated from Durham Voyager Academy in North Carolina and spent a prep year at Liberty Heights Athletic Institute in Charlotte. He was widely considered a four-star recruit and is considered the No. 21 player in his class by Rivals.com. He is also considered the best prospect out of North Carolina by 247sports.com composite. Aidoo originally committed to Marquette, but decimated in March 2021. He signed with the Volunteers in April.
In his only season at Liberty Heights, he posted averages of 15 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks while shooting 68%. He is six-foot-11 and uses this height to play good post defense. He struggles with his back to the basket on offense, but he has great athleticism and a serviceable jump shot. With improved strength, he could prove to be a valuable asset in the paint. He has the potential to develop into a crucial piece for the Volunteers.
Fr. G. – Jahmai Mashack #15
Mashack graduated from Etiwanda High School in California. He is considered a top 50 recruit in his class by Rivals.com and the No. 4 prospect out of California by ESPN. He won the 2021 CIF Southern California Regional Open Division title his senior year, putting up a stat line of 21 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks in the championship game. He also recorded the first triple-double in Etiwanda playoff school history with 17 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. His family has an athletic background with his father being a former basketball player at Loyola Marymount and his mother being a former track and field star at UNLV.
Mashack is known for his ferocious defense and hustle. He plays with physicality and uses his frame to defend guards and wings. He still has room for improvement on the offensive side of the ball where he struggles dribbling and shooting at a high level. He found his offensive success by using his athletic ability to run in transition and slash to the basket. With Tennessee’s focus on defense, Mashack will fit in well considering his ability to guard multiple positions at a high level.
Fr. G. – Quentin Diboundje #3
Diboundje spent his past year on the Montverde Academy “prep national” roster. He was born and raised in France, making his Montverde Academy playing time his first experience with U.S. basketball. While in France, he played for the Elan Chalon U21 team against older competitors. In 2019-20 while in France, he averaged 12.7 points and 4.9 rebounds. He is the second French player in Tennessee’s men’s basketball history after Yves Pons.
Diboundje is an effective scorer at the shooting guard position. He is six-foot-six and is able to box out and snag rebounds with his height. He is a good perimeter shooter who has the athleticism to play above the rim. He posted shooting percentages of 68.1% inside the arch and 42.1% from beyond while with Montverde. He is a lengthy defender who has a knack for getting in passing lanes.
Fr. G. – Zakai Zeigler #5
Zeigler graduated from Our Saviour Lutheran School in The Bronx but played his final high school season for Immaculate Conception High School in New Jersey. He participated in Peach Jam 2021 where he had a great showing. In six games, he averaged 15.3 points and 5.5 assists per game. He also had an assist to turnover ratio of 4.7 and shot 50% from three. At five-foot-nine he is the shortest men’s basketball player on scholarship at Tennessee since 1980.
Zeigler makes up for his small stature by being a crafty scorer. He is lethal from three and finds ways to weasel his way into open shots around the basket. He is smart with the ball and rarely commits turnovers making him an effective playmaker. In his final high school season, he averaged 20 points and 4.6 assists per game.
Fr. F. – Handje Tamba #32
Tamba is a local product, playing his high school basketball at Knoxville Catholic. He forgoed his senior season and reclassified to the class of 2021 in order to join this Volunteer team. In his junior year, he averaged 10.3 points, 7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. Like Brandon Huntley-Hatfield, he also played his AAU ball with the BMaze Elite program.
One of the tallest players on the roster, Tamba is listed at 6-foot-11. He utilizes this height to crash the boards. His skills as a basketball player are still raw, but the tools are there for him to develop into an effective college hooper. He makes smart decisions with the ball and gives effort on both ends including running in transition. He is also a decent athlete and protects the rim well.
Editor’s Projected Starters
G – Kennedy Chandler
G – Santiago Vescovi
F – Justin Powell
F – Josiah-Jordan James
C – John Fulkerson
Tennessee will be battle-tested headed into the postseason after they play a difficult regular season schedule. They warm up with local competition in UT Martin and ETSU, but they face strong out-of-conference programs in Villanova, Colorado, Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona. The SEC slate includes a matchup with every SEC team and two contests with LSU, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, South Carolina and Arkansas. The Vols will also take on Texas in Austin as a part of the BIG 12-SEC Challenge.
Edited by Christian Knox
Ryan Sylvia is the Sports Editor at TNJN. He is a junior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville majoring in journalism and electronic media. Although he spent most of his life being raised outside of Philadelphia, he was born in Knoxville, and he is happy to be back home. Ryan has had a love for sports from an early age, and he found his love for writing in high school while taking journalism classes. He hopes to find a job involving both his passions as a sports journalist after graduation. To reach Ryan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org