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Tennessee veterans, Julian Phillips undecided on future

Some big decisions are ahead.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-Florida Atlantic vs Tennessee Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, another basketball season is in the books. Tennessee fell to FAU on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, once again making a disappointing exit from the NCAA Tournament. The stars had seemingly aligned for Tennessee to make an Elite Eight run, but the ninth-seeded Owls had other plans.

The abrupt season-ending loss stings, but as a player, you don’t get any time to process things before questions come up about next year. Julian Phillips now has to work on that decision.

The former five-star prospect had a disappointing freshman season with Tennessee, never finding any sort of rhythm offensively. The flashes were there, but overall, his potential lone season of college basketball was a letdown.

Phillips averaged just over eight points a game. Following a hip flexor injury, Phillips saw his minutes decrease as Rick Barnes searched for answers through a few different injury situations. Phillips played only 12 minutes in the loss to FAU, going scoreless.

“I definitely wish I could have played better,” Phillips said after the loss. “I know the type of player I am. I know the work I put in. I have to get back in the gym, get my game right.”

Still, his explosiveness and 6-8 frame have NBA teams interested. They’ll bet on those traits over production, gambling on his future development. Phillips’ projection has been fading throughout the year, with ESPN showing him landing in the middle of the second round. Would that be enough for Phillips to bolt after just one year?

Of course, Phillips wasn’t interested in answering that just yet.

“I am still processing the end of the season, this game especially,” Phillips said. “Just being here with my team and being here with my brothers, this is really tough. Everything in the future, we can sit down and figure that out later when we get away from here.”

Phillips wasn’t alone in that stance, as expected. He’s not the only one with a decision to make. Thanks to the COVID-year rule, Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic each could return for a ‘super-senior’ season.

None of the four are ready to make that call just yet.

James is likely to get a shot at the NBA level, while Vescovi, Nkamhoua and Plavsic all would probably have professional opportunities overseas. Would either of the four benefit by returning? Most likely not. Would Phillips? Absolutely.

Expect plenty of roster churn this offseason.