Rightfully so, five-star freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler is getting most of the hype and attention entering the season. The Memphis product is set to become the primary creator for Rick Barnes, giving Tennessee their best true point guard since the Jordan Bone days.
Perhaps overshadowed a bit is Auburn transfer Justin Powell, who could fill one of Tennessee’s biggest needs from last year’s team. The Volunteers lacked shooting and a true point guard last season, which is something that they were never able to overcome. With Chandler in place along with Powell, this roster already seems much more rounded.
Powell played just ten games for Auburn last season, but those ten certainly were impressive. The 6-6 shooting guard averaged over 11 points per game, while shooting a stout 44 percent from three-point range. Lingering concussion issues ended up keeping him off of the floor for much of the year, and a trip to the transfer portal would finish his time at Auburn.
“Justin, if you think about it, he’s about as true of a freshman as they are because he only played ten games, he didn’t get a full year at all last year,” Barnes said on Wednesday to open preseason practices. “Justin did come in early and was one of the first guys to get here because he wanted to get himself in shape. He felt like going through what he went through last year in the concussion and all that he had fallen behind.”
Powell sort of slipped through the cracks out of high school, committing to Auburn as a three-star prospect coming out of the state of Kentucky. He seemed like a natural fit in Bruce Pearl’s wide-open, three-point heavy offense, but he was ready for a change after just one season. Understandably rusty and perhaps not in the best shape, it sounds like Powell has already put in the work to get back to where he once was.
“He’s another player that just fits perfectly,” Barnes said. “I mean everything we’re about, he’s about – hard worker, very unselfish, he wants to be a part of it, and I’m excited about him because he put the time in and did the things he needs to do. Like I said, he does a lot, so many good things on the offensive end.”
Barnes also points out that Powell brings some versatility to the table as a potential option at point guard, which is something he did at Auburn before Sharife Cooper was eligible.
“He can pass the ball, moves well without the ball, he knows how to utilize screens on court and he’s gotten even more consistent with his shot,” Barnes continued. “But during the summer while Kennedy was away and Zakai had not gotten here yet, Santi was at the point and you know Santi was away with his national team too, so both Justin and Victor Bailey had to run some of the point for us. I think that helped both of those guys and I think that he has shown that, but he is learning a new system too, he really is. But he’s an excellent passer he sees right through that net.”
Ever so quietly, Powell has appeared on the NBA’s radar, thanks to his length and shooting abilities. They’ll obviously want to see him move past his concussion issues from last year, while getting a bigger sample size of his potentially elite shooting.
Tennessee adds Chandler and Powell to a backcourt that already has Santiago Vescovi, Victor Bailey and Josiah Jordan-James. Four-star guard Jahmai Mashack, three-star guard Zakai Zeigler and three-star guard Quentin Diboundje are also in the picture.
It’s a completely new roster for Tennessee, top to bottom. Obviously, building some chemistry will be a big priority throughout practices and in the early season. Figuring out rotations and who works best where will be interesting to follow in November.
Tennessee gets things started with a scrimmage against Lenoir-Rhyne on Saturday, October 30th.