Today, Melvin Goins made his commitment to UT official by submitting his Letter of Intent and will officially be a BallerVol for the 2009-2010 season. Only the second incoming player for the 2009 recruiting class (the other is forward Kenny Hall), he fills a tremendous need at point guard for a team that suffered in backcourt play - a fault that eventually cost them a chance to go deep in the NCAA tournament.
Goins will be in his first year under Pearl, but there is reason to think he might transition faster than many point guards in a new system. In 2007, he played for the Ball State Cardinals, where he played in 30 games. He then transferred to Mount San Jacinto Junior College for the 2008 season and was named the MVP of the Foothill Conference. It may not sound terribly impressive on the surface, but the number of games played and the MVP season do tell us that he can learn to fit in with a team quickly. With some training and (productive) use of the Rocky Top Pilot League, he may be ready to play straight out of the box.
There is more to be excited about with Goins: at 5'-10" and 190 lbs, he is much stockier and more powerfully built than Maze or West. It's the kind of build that made Byron Eaton of Oklahoma State so successful. He plays a strong transition game with great ball control - something that must really make Pearl happy. If he plays with intensity and speed on the defensive end, he might fill the "JaJuan" role that we missed last year.
Through the last basketball season, the most common lament of Vols fans was the lack of leadership in the backcourt. With the end of eligibility of both Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith and the unfortunate loss of Ramar Smith in the offseason, UT went from perhaps the most experienced and cohesive backcourt in the SEC in 2007-2008 to the youngest set of guards in 2008-2009. Most notably, the Vols didn't have a clear lead point guard.
The problem was supposed to be solved by the addition of two new players: Bobby Maze and Daniel West. Maze had a decent season, but there were noticeable hitches in his game that were likely the effect of the transition to Pearl's style of play. Meanwhile, West fell victim to one of the crueller twists of the NCAA knife. Known to be a risky academic case, the NCAA decided to wait until after the fall semester registration deadline to tell West that they were going to reject his SAT retake and deny his scholarship. Saddled with a committed courseload after the drop/add date and with an intense desire to play under Pearl, West decided to stick with UT and pay for school out of pocket until he can get his situation fixed. (As an aside, there is still no word whether West will be eligible next year. I hope he pulls through, especially since the NCAA completely jobbed him by delaying their decision for so long.)
Sometimes, though, time is indeed the greatest cure. Maze has a year under his belt and can spend the offseason tuning his game to Bruceball. If he stays on task, West should have his academics clear and, if he continues with his plan to play at UT, would be a very welcome addition. And now we can add Melvin Goins.
Ideally, all three will be available. Maze is not as pure of a point guard as West or Goins, so he may find more time in the 2 slot if all three play. If so, his experience at point will still be great to have, especially if one of the other two should get injured. The change-up combination is also great; Maze and West play long and lean, while Goins is built like a backcourt bulldog. That should help UT tailor their lineup to play against a wider array of opponents - a luxury that is absolute gold for tournament play.
The one issue with Goins coming in is that UT is now one player over the scholarship limit. The problem could be solved if one of the Wayne Chism, Tyler Smith, and J.P. Prince trio leave early. In that scenario, the most likely is Smith and, as much as I'd hate to see him go, it might be the right answer for him and his family. Also, if Emmanuel Negedu continues to improve, Renaldo Woolridge steps up his game, and Kenny Hall has a strong start, the team may actually be in better shape to have the extra point guard without Smith than vice versa. (Not that it's a choice between the two; just an observation.)
Another possibility is that someone loses a scholarship. It happened last year with the departure of Crews and Ramar. Playing the role of the grim reaper, the first name that comes to mind is West. If he doesn't get academically cleared, then his loss would be made up by the gain of Goins at point. No Vols fan should want to see that happen, but it's always a possibility until we know it isn't.
However it works out, we have a new Vol to welcome to the family. It's all orange-tinted goggles right now, but the next season looks like the Vols' year. Even if Smith leaves, they will have an experienced team with a well-built backcourt and the physical diversity to match up against almost any team in the nation.