You already knew that Antonio Barton, Jordan McRae, and Jeronne Maymon had exhausted their eligibility, Quinton Chievous had announced his intention to transfer, and that Jarnell Stokes had declared for the NBA draft. But Wednesday morning, two more Vols announced their intention to leave, as Larry Austin and Jordan Cornish, both Tennessee signees for the 2014 recruiting class, asked to be released from their letters of intent.
As of the time of writing, Austin has been released by Donnie Tyndall, and it is expected that Cornish will be granted his release this afternoon (UPDATE: Cornish has been granted his release). This leaves the 2014 recruiting class with just two members, Philip Cofer and C.J. Turman (UPDATE: Turman has asked for release as well), and no guards. Cofer, a high three-star power forward from Georgia, is a Tennessee legacy and is expected to remain with the Vols.
We have yet to hear from Turman, another three-star power forward from Georgia.
Before we examine how this affects Tennessee, we should take a moment to recognize Tyndall for making the right call. He could've chosen to hold them to their letters of intent, but doing so generally does nothing but anger the players and make a national scene. The coach that signed Austin and Cornish is on the other side of the country, and they have not yet enrolled in Knoxville, giving them no meaningful tie--beyond their signatures--to the school, and letting them walk is the right thing to do, even if it does put Tyndall behind the eight-ball in constructing a roster.
And make no mistake, this does put Tyndall behind the eight-ball. Cuonzo Martin's recruiting was uninspiring to begin with--an often overlooked reason for some of the heat he was feeling at times this year--and Austin was his highest-rated commitment for 2014. This leaves the class with
two signees one signee, no guards, and four five unfilled scholarships.
Pending future attrition or commitments, the 2014-15 Vols roster looks like this:
Point guards: Darius Thompson (SO)
Wings: Josh Richardson (SR), Armani Moore (JR), Derek Reese (JR), Robert Hubbs (SO)
Forwards: Pops Ndiaye (SR), A.J. Davis (SO), Philip Cofer (FR),
C.J. Turman (FR)
As expected, there's no proven production behind Josh Richardson, but instead of having four young prospects with potential to fill backcourt roles, the Vols will be counting on Thompson and Hubbs to contribute heavily. The frontcourt
remains largely the same, with three young players who will need to grow up fast is down to just Pops and two young players who will need to grow up fast. And the Vols are looking at a nine-man eight-man rotation, even if they stay injury-free and the freshmen can contribute immediately.
With two non-seniors leaving Knoxville and
two three signees opting to go elsewhere, Tyndall will face the same roster issues that worse roster issues than Martin had in his first season. Martin, who had lost two NBA early entrants and two signees, did sign four players that year, a class that yielded one starter and three little-used bench players who would eventually transfer. Obviously, Tyndall would love to find a player of Josh Richardson's caliber, but Vols fans should hope he can make better use of the other three four scholarships, either by finding genuine SEC-caliber contributors this year--a tall order--or leaving them unfilled and bringing in a large, high-quality recruiting class in 2015. Either way, Tyndall has a difficult task in front of him. But he has walked into difficult situations at both of his previous stops and turned them around more quickly than anyone expected, and he will look to do the same in Knoxville.