Sometimes a simple change in scenery can do wonders. That might be where Derrick Walker’s head is at right now as he enters the NCAA’s transfer portal.
The 6-8, 236 pound rising junior power forward failed to find a role on last year’s team, playing behind Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander and John Fulkerson. Walker’s minutes actually went down from the 2017-18 season, dropping from 8.8 to 5.3 per game. He averaged just 1.1 rebound and 0.8 points per game this season for Tennessee.
However, with Alexander out of the picture now and Williams potentially out of it as well, Walker was a natural candidate to benefit with added minutes, which is why his attempt to transfer is a little odd.
Tennessee does have D.J. Burns waiting, who is a former four-star prospect in the 2018 signing class. Burns redshirted and should be ready to compete for playing time this season. Zach Kent is also an option and could space the floor with his shooting ability. Still, Kent remains unproven and has only appeared in two games to this point.
If Walker does follow through and leave Tennessee, that opens up a scholarship for Rick Barnes to fill. He and the Tennessee staff have been working to find backup plans if Jordan Bone or Grant Williams decide to stay in the draft. The Vols have been connected to Jalen Cone and stud grad-transfer Kerry Blackshear Jr. so far.
Tennessee is adding Josiah James, Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines this year, bringing their roster full for next season. Obviously the fluid situations of Williams, Bone and now Walker could create more room for Barnes to fill.
Adding Cone along with a grad-transfer big — even just someone similar to Lew Evans from a few years back — would be a solid backup plan. Blackshear is the clear grand slam scenario, but he’s got several options on the table, including the NBA Draft.
If Grant does stay in the draft, Tennessee would really be hurting for depth down low. Maybe Walker opts to return to the Vols in that scenario, but you can probably expect Tennessee to get heavily active in the grad-transfer market even with Walker remaining on the roster. Going into the season with Fulkerson, Burns and Kent as the bigs would be — well — a disaster.
Walker’s decision adds another layer to an already interesting time for Rick Barnes and his staff. You can probably expect to hear a few new veteran targets emerge in the coming days.