Tennessee kicked off the offseason with the addition of a familiar name. It was one that they had seen on the court, but also one with some family ties to the staff. Jordan Gainey, the son of Tennessee assistant coach Justin Gainey, committed to Tennessee after leaving USC Upstate via the transfer portal.
The younger Gainey brings some much needed shooting to the Volunteers, filling an obvious need for Rick Barnes. Last week, Justin was asked about the process of adding his son to the program.
“My approach was, one, I wanted him to find what he was looking for,” Gainey said.” Find happiness. I wanted him to be really clear on what it was he wanted. What he was trying to get out of it. For him, it was a place that wanted him and really wanted him. During that process I was dad. I allowed coach (Barnes) to take the reins on that recruitment and I thought he did a fabulous job.”
Jordan, a 6-4 guard, was a first-team All-Big South performer last season. He averaged 15 points per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range. That number came down from his freshman season, where Gainey shot a staggering 49 percent from long range. Those numbers should illustrate why Tennessee was interested, clearly lacking in shooting a year ago.
“(Barnes) was unbelievable during that process and he was unbelievable in making Jordan feel like, we want you not because your dad is here but because you address a need that we have,” Justin Gainey said. “That made it easy and once coach (Barnes) talked to mom it sealed the deal. I was dad and tried to answer any questions he might have and give him an inside scoop on what it was to be a Tennessee Vol.”
So how’s it been coaching his son at the college level?
“It’s been awesome,” Gainey said. “Take basketball out of it. Just the fact that I get to see him everyday and continue to watch him grow, grow up and become a man. I would say the last three years he’s been away for school so I’ve missed and really under appreciated what it feels like to see him everyday. For me, that’s been great. Basketball is going to be basketball. We get on the court and there’s going to be good days, there’s going to be bad days. I have to be coach at the end of the day but just being able to see him everyday has been phenomenal for me.”
Jordan’s fit with the team will be interesting in a crowded backcourt. Tennessee brings back Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James, while they’ll eventually get Zakai Zeigler back from a torn ACL. Jahmai Mashack came on strong to end the year, while transfer Dalton Knecht and redshirt freshman Freddie Dilione enter the equation.
To get things started in Knoxville, Gainey is working on some point guard looks. The Tennessee staff likes to build in versatility with all of their guards, so getting comfortable handling the ball and running point is a must, especially with Zeigler’s situation still unfolding.
“The thing with how we play and the things we’ve been working on here in practice, it’s important for all of our guards to be able to handle the basketball, for all of our guards to be able to push the break and know what to do from that point guard position,” Gainey said. “For him, it just gives him a little more versatility and that’s something he can do and he showed he can do at Upstate. They just needed him to score and be a volume shooter, scorer. So, I think he’s settling in nicely to that role and he’s just, as all our guards, being prepared to play all guard positions because as you know last year when Zakai (Zeigler) went down, we had to rely on different guys to handle the ball and I think we did a great job with that.”
“Jahmai stepping up, with Josiah being able to step up and obviously Santi. So the more and more ball-handlers we can have, the more guys can kind of assume that point guard responsibility, the better.”
Tennessee will see some action next week overseas, set to play three exhibition games in Rome. We’ll get our first view of Gainey in orange and white during that trip before the season gets rolling in November.