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Santiago Vescovi set to take a step forward as a sophomore

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NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

We’re going to be doing some basketball individual player previews here at Rocky Top Talk, and it was a tough choice on which player to begin with. I coulda gone with John Fulkerson, who was (one of, if not) the best post player in the SEC during what ended up being the final stretch of the season. I also could have picked reigning SEC Defensive PoY Yves Pons, who’s got more blocks than a pretty woman who has to block weird guys on Facebook.

Or, I could have gone with one of either incoming 5-star guards, Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson.

But instead, I’ma go with Santiago Vescovi.

Vescovi crashed into Tennessee’s basketball program like a tidal wave midseason, and started his first collegiate game mere days after arriving here from his home in Uruguay. The reason I use the tidal wave comparison is because with his arrival came pure chaos. When caused by tidal waves, chaos is simply destructive and sad. But in basketball, chaos can be an advantage. Tidal waves don’t hit six 3-pointers in their first game.

In that first game against LSU, Santi went 6-9 from deep scoring 18 points and added six rebounds, four assists and a steal. That’s the good manifestation of basketball’s chaos: an unknown player raining down hell-fire from 25 feet away at a 67 percent clip.

But chaos is wild, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Vescovi turned the ball over not four, five or six times — numbers that would, typically, constitute a poor performance — he turned it over nine times. That’s more turnovers than your local bakery sells in a whole day.

The bedlam continued early in his tenure — counting the LSU game, he managed 30 turnover in just his first six games. But, he also averaged more than 24 minutes, hit two-plus 3s and added four rebound and three assists while handling the majority of the point guard duties.

The rest of the season was more trampoline-like ups and downs. He scored double figures in eight of the last 13 games but shot just 32 percent from behind the arc. His minutes increased as the coaches saw the value in his volatility — like his game against Arkansas when I watched him, in person, on my birthday, take a flamethrower to the Hogs with three 3-point daggers, 20 total points and eight assists.

You could smell the roasted pig from Gay Street. I find most pork disgusting, so even just watching him decimate a team with a pig mascot made me oh-so-happy. Plus — what a freaking birthday present, right?

The stat I found most interesting though was over the year, he raised his assist total to four per-game from the three he averaged earlier in the year during that first six-game stretch. It’s not a huge jump, and there’s a correlation likely present due to the extra minutes he played, but the eye test shows he’s got some elite play-making vision.

Another, from his first NCAA game, six days after entering the country:

His per-minute numbers show an ever more impressive ability to distribute at just shy of 5 assists every 40 minutes. Then, when you take into account teams playing at different paces, he posted 7.3 assists per every 100 possessions.

The stats I could find on his playing days in Uruguay were sparse — they only had stats for four games. The team went 2-2, with Santi dishing out 5 assists in each win but only one in the two losses. That’s too small of a sample size to make any determination of, but it’s not discouraging, if nothing else.

Now, this is subjective, but I also see a fire and moxie in his game that’s often contagious. The fans love him and his teammates love him. That stuff doesn’t hurt a PG’s confidence.

Also, allegedly, he’s had a great offseason and seems to be trending toward a much-improved sophomore year. I don’t pay for any of Knoxville’s media information, but Chris Adams runs a Facebook group and posted this tidbit yesterday:

A brief update from the guys at VolQuest:

“On the current team practice started last week but with a skeleton crew as multiple players were involved in contract tracing and were absent. The squad got back to full strength this week. The usual buzz about Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer impressing has continued to trickle out but we also keep hearing that Santiago Vescovi has taken a huge step forward and is the most improved player on the team.”

It’s going to be a crowded backcourt — Vescovi, Springer, Johnson and newly eligible Victor Bailey could all be vying for lead-guard minutes. I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE IT PLAY OUT.

P.S.

If anybody can reach Santi and beg him to un-bleach blond his hair, please do. ‘Cuz boiii you lookin’ right turrible out there. SMH.