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A Look Ahead: Will Johnson, Springer return for their sophomore seasons?

A quick distraction.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just 11 games into the 2020-2021 basketball season, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next season.

Prior to this year, before either guy had played any college ball, both Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer were listed as lottery selections in multiple 2021 NBA mock drafts. On November 20th, 2020, SB Nation’s own Ricky O’Donnell dropped the first of several eventual editions of his 2021 NBA mock draft which featured both freshmen going in the lottery (Springer, no. 6 and Johnson, no. 13).

6. Jaden Springer, G, Tennessee

“Springer is going to be part of an upstart Tennessee squad that should have NBA scouts monitoring what’s happening in Knoxville all season long. The 6’5 guard had a terrific prep career at IMG Prep, where he helped lead the team to a mythical national championship as a junior. Springer is a relentless player on both ends, combining aggressive drives to the rim with intimidating one-on-one defense. His strength and agility combined with a winning mentality should make him a productive college player from day one.”

13. Keon Johnson, F, Tennessee

“Johnson feels like one of the most underrated players in the incoming freshman class after being ranked No. 23 in the RSCI. The 6’5 wing is a nuclear athlete who is able to impact the game without needing the ball in his hands. Read Ross Homan on Johnson’s appeal.

O’Donnell was pretty spot-on in his evaluations — Springer is “relentless on both ends,” as he seemingly gets to the basket whenever he wants and ranks fourth (among players with at least 50 minutes played) in defensive rating (84.5) on the nation’s second-best defensive team.

I like Ricky’s description of Johnson as a “nuclear athlete,” and I’m sure the following two clips will be played during every scout’s evaluation of the freshman from Shelbyville, TN.

Currently, neither player’s per-game averages are going to wow NBA executives, but, to some extent, those less-than-spectacular outputs are a function of the playing time Johnson and Springer are getting. Though each guy has just recently started his first games, both are playing about 20 minutes per contest, and that’s a trend I expect will continue through the rest of the regular season. There’s no doubt Head Coach Rick Barnes wants them fresh come tournament time.

But, with fewer minutes typically comes less production, and guys who are playing more and putting up better numbers are going to generate more NBA-draft buzz. NBA Draft dot net put out an updated mock draft on January 1, and the only Tennessee player featured is Yves Pons going at no. 50.

Springer looks to be the more well-rounded player now, with Johnson struggling to shoot the ball from, well, anywhere outside 10 feet.

Maybe it’s total fantasy, but the possibility of one or two of these guys coming back to run the back court with incoming 5-star point guard Kennedy Chandler is almost enough to make this writer drool on the keyboard.

What do you guys think? Is there any real possibility Tennessee gets a second year with Springer and/ or Johnson?