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Rick Barnes explains Brandon Huntley-Hatfield’s decision to reclassify

Syndication: The Leaf-Chronicle George Robinson / The Leaf-Chronicle via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Tennessee has continued to do some serious damage on the recruiting trail as of late, coming up with another big offseason despite a disappointing 2020-21 season. Rick Barnes landed five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler, while adding the reclassifying five-star power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield to the frontcourt.

In total, Tennessee has landed yet another top five recruiting class, and the Volunteers once again have the talent to make a deep run in March. It’s possible that this roster construction is a little more balanced than last year’s group, and part of the reason why is Huntley-Hatfield.

The 6-9, 230 pound prospect is going to bring some strength back to the Tennessee post, along with some offense. With John Fulkerson dealing with COVID — something that Barnes said affected his entire season — Tennessee really didn’t have any post scoring options. That left the offense stuck in the mud, creating a frustrating season.

Barnes is hoping Huntley-Hatfield solves those problems.

“He has talked about it for quite some time,” Barnes said of Huntley-Hatfield’s decision to reclassify. “We’ve been recruiting Brandon for a long time. Has a chance to be a terrific player as we all know. What I love about him is that he did take his time and thought into it. Wheels were in motion a couple months ago where he might be a possibility. He knows it’s going to be a challenge for him and yet he’s embraced it. He did his due diligence, in terms of talking to players and wondering what it was going to be like coming in a year early.”

So instead of playing his senior year of high school basketball, Huntley-Hatfield will instead move up and take on the SEC. Now as a part of the 2021 class, Huntley-Hatfield remains a top 20 player overall. Following the update, he ranks as the 18th-ranked player in the country, per 247Sports.

“We’re excited for him,” Barnes said. “He thought long and hard about it. He going to come in and get a chance to go against some good players. He has set some very high standards for himself. The one thing I love about him is how he kept talking to me about how much he wanted to be coached. How much better he wanted to be. For a young man to class up like that, it says a lot about him. We’re excited because we know he has a chance to be a terrific player.”

So how exactly will this change how Tennessee plays? According to Barnes, it’s going to free up Fulkerson and take some physical responsibility off of his plate. After watching how teams went after Fulkerson last year, getting stronger down low was an absolute must.

“(Fulkerson) won’t have to stay down there as much as he has in the past,” Barnes said. “That was a tough thing for him. It was obvious that their deal was to beat him up. Just body him up wherever he was. He weighed whatever it would take and physically he did. He was getting pounded on it. I think the fact that he’ll be able to go back to playing in a way that he played for the most part of his three years here.”

Tennessee will return Olivier Nkamhoua, and trust him to take another step forward. Uros Plavsic also returns, and Jonas Aidoo’s addition will add even more size to the frontcourt. It’s a completely revamped group, and it may be the key to a successful 2021-22 season.