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Rick Barnes speaks on Tobe Awaka’s big FIBA U19 World Cup performance

Awaka feels like he’s ready to take a big step forward.

Duke v Tennessee Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

It’s been a busy summer for Tennessee big man Tobe Awaka. The diamond-in-the-rough prospect came on strong to close last season for the Volunteers, and that strong performance continued for Team USA in the FIBA U19 World Cup.

In seven games played, Awaka averaged 11.6 points and 10.6 rebounds. He was second in rebounding of all players in the tournament, and first in offensive rebounds per game.

Awaka put up 15 points and 14 boards in just 20 minutes of play against China. He backed that up with back to back 14 point outings against France and Japan in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Awaka finished shooting 60 percent from the field for the tournament (33/55).

“I don’t think there’s any question it was great for Tobe and the experience he got from it,” Rick Barnes said. “I think he would tell you that he loved every minute of it. I think a situation like that can help a person like Tobe really get confidence and grow, especially with the way he performed.”

Awaka arrived at Tennessee late after reclassifying to the class of 2022. Naturally, nothing was expected from him as a freshman, but Awaka couldn’t be kept off of the floor. He got an unexpected 17 minutes off the bench early in the year against Maryland, proving to be one of the best rebounders on the roster. That seven point, eight rebound performance solidified his role in the rotation going forward.

Now with Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic gone, Awaka moves up the pecking order with Jonas Aidoo. Those two will operate as the leaders of the Tennessee frontcourt, perhaps with some hybrid looks from Chris Ledlum and Dalton Knecht. True freshman JP Estrella could also get some time.

It certainly feels like Awaka is set to take a pretty sizeable step forward with more minutes coming his way. His showing for Team USA further drove that point home. He’s one to watch this year for Tennessee.