It seems like Tennessee fans get a bad rap for hyping up certain teams, coaches, players, you name it. Some of the hype is justified, but various things unravel, and all of the sudden the optimism looks silly in hindsight. Unfortunately, it’s happened more frequently to Tennessee in recent years.
At risk of doing it again: the 2021 Tennessee basketball recruiting class deserves the hype.
No, we won’t call them the best recruiting class in school history...yet. We actually need to see how they perform on the court before that can be concluded. But from a pure talent standpoint, there’s little doubt that this is the best class the Volunteers have ever brought in.
According to 247Sports, Tennessee’s 2021 class ranks 3rd nationally. As far as I can tell, that is the highest ranking a Tennessee class has ever achieved. Some of it is luck—since one of the 5-stars actually reclassified from a later class—but a lot of it is Rick Barnes and his staff selling the program vision.
So, what is Tennessee actually getting with the 2021 class? Let’s just say, a lot.
5-star G Kennedy Chandler
When Chandler first committed, I said he reminded me of Kyrie Irving. My opinion is unchanged. Chandler looks more talented at this stage of his development than either of Tennessee’s 5-star signees from the previous class (Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson). That’s not a guarantee he comes in and plays better than those two ever did—it’s just saying that he is a bit ahead in the process.
Chandler’s feel on offense is downright fun to watch. He can attack the basket with impressive control and balance, dish it to a teammate with an absurd pass, and take on defenders much bigger than himself. His highlights will have you mumbling under your breath with excitement.
You may have figured it out by now, but Chandler is a Day-1 starter at Tennessee. He’s simply too good of a player to keep off the court. He’s also filling one of Tennessee’s biggest needs at the point guard position. Chandler gives the coaching staff a flexibility with their talent that they didn’t have this past season. Players like Santiago Vescovi won’t be forced to shoulder the backcourt load and primary ball-handling duties.
Enjoy Chandler while you can. Because he’s almost certainly gone to the league after one year.
5-star PF Brandon Huntley-Hatfield
The word “control” comes to mind. Huntley-Hatfield has a fairly refined game for a player his age. Most bigger guys seem to struggle with the ball in their hands, and rely too much on raw size advantage in high school. Huntley-Hatfield (6-foot-9, 230 pounds) shows a deadly trio of ball handling skills, shooting stroke, and body control. Truthfully he could operate as a decent small forward if he put his focus there—but his future is down low. He’s very comfortable as a scorer and gives Tennessee an immediate starting option. Huntley-Hatfield has a bit of LaMarcus Aldridge to his game, if you’re looking for a player comparison.
Defensively, he’s still pretty raw. He shows a decent ability to recover and keep up with faster players, but there’s not much else to divine from the tape. He’s got decent enough length to turn into a respectable defender in the paint—he just needs more experience. In general, Huntley-Hatfield needs to get used to bigger/stronger competition at the SEC level. Getting him into the S&C program will be key if he wants to hold his own while rebounding and defending.
But those are small concerns compared to what he brings to the team. He’s a high-floor player that will be deadly on next season’s squad.
4-star C Jonas Aidoo
Aidoo was one of the more surprising commitments of the class. There was a lot of smoke surrounding him once he decommitted from Marquette, and some big schools were involved. Tennessee eventually swooped in and gained a commitment from 6-foot-11, 215 pound center in mid-April.
With Aidoo, it’s all about trajectory. He was a typical project center that had good length and athleticism, but lacked a refined game. That was true for a lot of his recruitment—but once his senior year rolled around, scouts got a better look at Aidoo and came away more impressed. He’s filled out his body more than anticipated, so he’s coming into college with more strength than most project centers of his type. The tape also shows a player dedicated on both sides of the court. That’s a big deal, since his offensive game is restricted to around the rim. Developing as a defensive stalwart would immediately give him starter-level minutes for Tennessee.
If Aidoo had committed to Tennessee back in September, we’d predict limited appearances and more of a rotational role. But the recent developments in his game have altered the equation. Tennessee may have grabbed two frontcourt starters in a single recruiting class, along with Huntley-Hatfield. That’s how fast Aidoo is progressing, and if it continues over the summer, Aidoo will be vying for a starting spot as a true freshman.
4-star F Jahmai Mashack
Disclosure: Video of Mashack in-game is hard to come by since his senior season was basically wiped out by coronavirus. We’re going off older footage and a couple of new clips.
That also means Mashack is one of the bigger mysteries of the class. He could come in and contribute just as much as the three players ranked above him—or he could take some more time to adjust to college since he missed out on a year of development.
What we’re able to gauge is that Mashack is a prototypical defender for modern basketball. He’s a lengthy wing prospect (6-foot-5, 190 pounds) that shows comfort as both an on-ball and off-ball defender. He’s physical and has the requisite athleticism to guard basically any position in the backcourt. I don’t think the Volunteers have anyone like him currently on the roster.
His offense is a work in progress. Some of his recent shooting in the limited tape is actually encouraging, and he has improved the fluidity of his jumper. Still, Mashack has a lot more going for him when he attacks the rim, and this is where Barnes will have him focus his efforts.
3-star G Quentin Diboundje
It wouldn’t be a Rick Barnes team without one French project player, would it? Diboundje was another late addition to the class, and there was very little info about him at the time. All we knew was that Diboundje was a French basketball prospect who played for Montverde Academy in Florida. He ended up 155th overall in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.
Much like beloved Yves Pons before him, it’s going to be a question of how much development Diboundje can do in his first couple years on campus. Diboundje has a very nice quickness to his game, and it’s what he builds a lot of his skills on. He’s hard to stop off the dribble, and a lot of his buckets see him blow past a defender that can’t stay in front. He also has a nice shooting stroke from 3-point range.
The quickness transfers over to the defensive side, where Diboundje’s main draw is an underrated ability to come up with steals. He can jump in front of a pass quicker than most point guards recognize. When you’re 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, that level of twitchiness can bring you a long career on the hardwood.
That being said, I want to see Diboundje convert the physical talents to a tougher league. He will need to fill out and expand his offensive skillset before he gets major minutes on an SEC team. There’s a lot to like with his potential, but I wouldn’t expect to see Diboundje much in his freshman season.
Give Me The Summary
An extremely talented class that has the potential to go down as the best in school history. Anywhere from 2-3 immediate starters. Balanced between two offensively gifted stars and two defensively promising recruits. High-ceiling prospect rounds out the class.