Per Rivals’ Rob Cassidy and multiple other media outlets, Tennessee’s former 5-star freshman Julian Phillips has entered the transfer portal.
I don’t think this comes as any huge surprise, considering the Vols already have a full 13-man roster, with their own portal additions of Northern Colorado’s Dalton Knecht, Harvard’s Chris Ledlum and assistant coach Justin Gainey’s son, Jordan Gainey, from South Carolina Upstate. Tennessee’s also adding 4-star guard Cameron Carr, and big men JP Estrella and Cade Phillips in this year’s recruiting class. Freddie Dilione is already on the team but will play his redshirt-freshman season next year.
Phillips joins senior Olivier Nkamhoua and freshman point guard BJ Edwards as players from last year’s team that have entered the portal, though I expect Nkamhoua to end up playing professionally overseas somewhere next year.
The class of 2022’s 15th-overall ranked player sorta fell into Tennessee’s lap, as he was originally committed to LSU and flipped to the Vols after the Tigers fired former coach Will Wade.
Though he showed flashes, Phillips never hit his stride in orange and white. When he put up 25 points and eight rebounds against USC in UT’s fifth game of the season, against USC in the Battle 4 Atlantis, I assumed that was his coming out party. He played 38 minutes in the win and showed an ability to get to the hoop and draw fouls — hitting 10 of his 12 free-throw attempts — which was something the Vols struggled with as a team last year.
But instead of a coming out party, that game ended up being the highlight of his season. Phillips finished the year as UT’s fifth-leading scorer, averaging just 8.3 points per-game.
He ended up scoring a total of five points in Tennessee’s three NCAA Tournament games, though he played fewer than 20 minutes in each contest.
I’m no coach, but I’m a bit curious as to what Barnes is trying to do with next year’s team. He added two wings in Knecht and Ledlum, who seem to have fairly overlapping body types and skillsets and encouraged the Knoxville-native Edwards to leave, who was the team’s only other point guard other than Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL in March. The team needs shooting and ball handlers, and I just don’t see where those needs have been addressed.
Knecht shot 37-percent from 3 in two seasons at Northern Colorado, while Gainey shot 50 percent his freshman season but then hit just 34 percent from deep last year against Big South Conference competition.
Santiago Vescovi will likely be the best shooter on the team, but how much will he be relied upon to play the lead guard spot? The “point-guard-by-committee,” thing doesn’t do anything but take away from what the players who aren’t point guards but are handling the ball do well. Jahmai Mashack isn’t a point guard. Freshmen Freddie Dilione and Cameron Carr aren’t point guards. Vescovi isn’t a point guard. Barnes has had and kept one true point guard — Kennedy Chandler — since Jordan Bone in 2018-2019.
None of this relates to Julian Phillips, other than how he’s been replaced with seemingly less-talented players. Another year in a college strength and conditioning program, and we could be watching Phillips have a NBA-lottery pick type season in another uniform.