Finally, the transition season for Tennessee basketball is over. Things were always going to be difficult for the Volunteers after watching Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone depart to the NBA after the 2018-19 season. A rocky 17-14 season was the result, filled with highs and lows.
The Volunteers took their lumps. But this past season was always all about next season.
Tennessee is set to return every key player outside of Jordan Bowden next year. This includes John Fulkerson and Yves Pons, who both took massive steps forward in new roles as juniors. Freshman guards Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James will return, each coming off of roller coaster first seasons in Knoxville. But those year one learning experiences are now behind them and out of the way.
Those four make up the core, then Tennessee’s fourth-ranked recruiting class will make up the rest. Five-star guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer will add some big time NBA talent to the roster, while four-star wing Corey Walker Jr. adds a bit more size. Oregon transfer Victor Bailey Jr. will add some experience to a backcourt that could really use some.
Those eight players form a really talented rotation, but it’s pretty guard heavy. Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua provided depth for the Tennessee frontcourt last season as freshmen. They’ll be in the mix next season as well, but Rick Barnes received an upgrade in that department on Friday.
E.J. Anosike announced that he will join Tennessee for next season, transferring from Sacred Heart. The 6-6, 245 pound power forward brings toughness to the Volunteers, something they could have used last season. While he may not have the length you would typically want from a post player, Tennessee is getting a rugged body that will help their efforts on the glass.
Tennessee’s rebounding numbers were a constant thorn in their side last season. Averaging 34.5 per game, the Vols ranked 279th in the country in that department. They ranked 10th in the SEC in offensive rebounds, something Anosike specialized in at Sacred Heart. Tennessee was the worst defensive rebounding team in the SEC last season. Overall, Anosike scored over 15 points per game will adding 11 boards per contest last season. He brings an attitude to the Tennessee frontcourt — something they were definitely missing last year.
Anosike likely slots in as the first big off the bench for Tennessee behind John Fulkerson and Yves Pons. He provides added insurance for Barnes should Pons opt to test the NBA waters, though most agree that the rising senior could use one more year of seasoning at the college level. Adding Anosike also takes some pressure off of Plavsic, Nkamhoua and Drew Pember, who each could use a year in the weight room before moving into important roles after Fulkerson and Pons move on for good.
While Tennessee’s 2019 recruiting class is historic, it lacked a big man, which is something that the Volunteers absolutely needed. With Anosike now ready to roll, Barnes has his band-aid in place.
Tennessee is now even more loaded, set to compete for a title with this unique blend of veterans and potential one-and-dones. After an expected down year, this program is about to be a whole lot of fun again.