Most of the hype around this freshman class has centered around five-star guard Josiah James, but another freshman is in line for playing time this year too. Four-star power forward Olivier Nkamhoua could end up being an important piece coming off of the bench for Tennessee this year.
(By the way — it’s pronounced OH-liv-ee-AY KAHM-wuh)
The Volunteers saw Kyle Alexander and Grant Williams move on to the NBA this offseason, while Derrick Walker and D.J. Burns transferred. That’s a lot of freed up minutes in the post, and Nkamhoua isn’t too far down the depth chart.
Tennessee is waiting to secure a waiver for Uros Plavsic. Assuming all goes well there, the 7-foot center will likely start alongside of John Fulkerson down low for Rick Barnes. Redshirt sophomore Zach Kent will finally get his chance to contribute. Beyond that, it’s probably a hybrid role for Yves Pons, who could handle minutes at the four. But Nkamhoua should factor into that rotation right off the bat as well.
“Olivier is one of those guys that he is very much self-driven,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said of his freshman forward this week. “He has got his personal goals that he wants to make an impact as a freshman. He has really embraced being coached and wanting to be out there.”
Nkamhoua flew under the radar thanks to an injury that took his senior season of high school basketball from him. Shortly after signing with Tennessee, Nkamhoua shot to a four-star prospect, sitting just outside of the top 100.
A native of Finland, Nkamhoua checks in at 6-8, 224 pounds. That’s some much needed size for Tennessee, which suddenly looked pretty thin in the frontcourt in the middle of this offseason.
“He comes in really strong,” Barnes added. “He is very strong. Very active. Terrific stamina, for a freshman. He has made great strides. He got here in June and has made tremendous strides ever since.”
Nkamhoua brings an interesting skill set to the table. He’s grown into his post role, but it wasn’t always that way. In 2016, Nkamhoua played point guard at 6-4 for the Finland U16 team. That guard experience shows when you watch him too. He looks natural with the ball in his hands, flashing an ability to drive along with a jumper from both the middle and deep range.
With Barnes and this staff’s track record, his development over the next few years will be fun to watch.