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How the addition of Keon Johnson changes the 2020 outlook for Tennessee

A look at the future of the program.

Colgate v Tennessee Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Keon Johnson’s long anticipated commitment went exactly as planned for Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Volunteers. The homegrown talent opted to stay home on Tuesday night, committing to Tennessee’s 2020 class.

It was Tennessee’s 2nd commitment inside of the top 35, adding to Corey Walker, who ranks 34th overall in the class. Johnson himself ranks 31st. The new commitment slots the Vols inside of the top five in the 2020 class rankings, according to 247 Sports.

The even better news? Tennessee isn’t done in this class.

Barnes is after a handful of 2020 guys, even after the Johnson commitment. Five-star guard Jaden Springer recently had Tennessee in his top five, while four-star power forward P.J. Hall did the same. Tennessee has also been linked to 2021 point guard Cam Hayes, who could reclassify to the 2020 class.

Springer is the highest rated prospect of that bunch, checking in at 12th overall in the 247 Sports Composite rankings for 2020. The North Carolina Tar Heels currently lead in his crystal ball projections. Hall ranks 65th in the class, while Hayes slots in 30th in the class of 2021.

Tennessee will have at the very least two openings to fill after the departure of Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner this year. However, the Vols currently have one spot open after the transfer of D.J. Burns, which they have yet to fill. Barnes could always just roll that opening over to next season, which he did with last year’s group.

As we’ve seen this year, the transfer market is wild and can change plans on a dime. Tennessee lost Derrick Walker and Burns to transfers this year, freeing up two unexpected scholarships. All of this after four players, including two juniors, declared for the NBA Draft.

What will 2020 look like?

Without Bowden or Turner in the picture in 2020, you can expect incoming 2019 five-star freshman guard Josiah James to take the lead in the backcourt, maybe with some help from Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr.

Keon Johnson and Corey Walker Jr. will fit somewhere into the two and three roles as freshmen, each in line for big playing time right off the bat. Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson will each be seniors at that point, creating a pretty potent — and large — rotation at the guard and wing spots.

The development of Drew Pember and Davonte Gaines will be key for this roster as the staff tries to create some depth. Pember, at a lean 6-9, 186 pounds, is a likely fit at the three spot as a shooter. The 6-7 Gaines could give you minutes as a guard or a wing, depending on how quickly he comes along.

The frontcourt is where Tennessee could use some help going forward. They’ll be relying on a now veteran John Fulkerson, along with redshirt freshman transfer Uros Plavsic, who comes in from Arizona State. Plavsic’s 7-1 size is something you can’t teach, and Barnes now has four years to develop that talent.

Next season, a senior Fulkerson and a sophomore Plavsic — hopefully with a full year of development under his belt — should be more than adequate in the paint. The question there will be depth. What will emerge behind those two? Zach Kent will be a redshirt junior by then, perhaps ready to contribute minutes as a big who can shoot.

Olivier Robinson-Nkamhoua is the next man in that equation at 6-8, 216 pounds. With an obvious void in the frontcourt rotation, the freshman from Finland could see playing time as early as this season. At the very least, Robinson-Nkamhoua figures to be a rotational piece by 2020.

While it’s easy to find some holes in the roster for the 2019-20 season, the 2020-21 outlook has suddenly become pretty bright. Of course, we’re sure to see some unexpected changes, but Barnes and his staff have now landed three top 35 talents in the past 12 months. That’s a recipe for sustained success, no matter what curveball comes your way.