KNOXVILLE — For the Tennessee’s mens basketball team, the 2018-19 season was highlighted by historic accomplishments. They were ranked No.1 in the country for just the second time in program history, they defeated a No.1 team in the nation in Gonzaga, received a No.2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet Sixteen for just the eighth time in program history.
Four of the Vols players, Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander and Jordan Bone, signed with NBA teams while Williams was a two-time SEC Player of the Year.
Fast forward to Friday, October 11, as the 2019-20 Tennessee team sat around tables in Pratt Pavilion for their annual media day. Sitting at the tables, just six scholarship players returned from that historic season while the other six are entering their first year with the program. Senior Jordan Bowden and freshman Josiah-Jordan James are the only two on the team getting serious NBA looks.
Sounds a little different, doesn’t it?
“This team has been a fun team to be around and coach,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “We’re working in the direction we want to go. We still have a lot of young guys that are still learning the details of some things and the importance of some things, but their attitudes have been terrific and we need to get everybody as healthy as we can before we get into it.”
The Vols are left with no shortage of talent with Bowden and fellow senior Lamonte Turner returning.
Last season, Turner averaged 11 points per game and, while starting the season as the sixth-man, fought his way into the starting rotation, starting 19 games.
Turner replaced Bowden in the starting lineup who, after struggling to start the season, made a case for the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 10.6 points per game. Both will have to step into new roles this season as leaders on the team.
“The energy that Jordan and Lamonte bring day in and day out is remarkable,” freshman Davonte Gaines said. “They’re showing us the ropes and are helping us with everything. Having those two guys has been great for us.”
While the team lacks the senior leadership depth that previous Vols teams had, they do have one advantage. That comes in the form of the 6-feet-7-inch freshman James.
A native of Charleston, S.C., James enters UT as a five-star and the fourth-highest recruit in Tennessee basketball history. James will play all three guard positions, with the majority of his time switching at the point guard position with Turner. At 6-feet-7-inches, James meets the criteria of a new style of point guard that is being seen in the NBA.
“We’ll use him in any and every way that we have to because he’s the kind of player that (is) very versatile, I think he’s kind of an unselfish person that’s willing to do whatever you ask him to do, whatever his teammates need him to do, but I think we’ll use him every way that you can possibly think about using a guy, because he’s that versatile at playing the point, playing off the ball, doing whatever, he’s always going to try to make winning plays,” Barnes said.
The Vols are also benefitted by the arrivals of Uros Plavsic and Victor Bailey. Plavsic, from Arizona State, and Bailey, from Oregon, have both experienced the play style and physicality of college basketball. While Bailey has to sit out this season and Plavsic still hasn’t heard from the NCAA on his eligibility, both provide more leadership for the Vols freshmen class.
“It’s always good if you can add some older guys, especially in college basketball,” assistant coach Kim English said. “They have adjusted really well, and we really like having them.”
The Vols open the season with an exhibition on October 30 against Eastern New Mexico. Their first regular season game is the following Tuesday, November 5, against UNC Asheville.