Last week, we started a two part look at what all the 2019-2020 Tennessee Vols’ Basketball team is going to be looking to replace in the upcoming season (click here to read part one https://armchairallamericans.com/the-vols-replacements-part-1-of-2/). We took a look at all of the players gone from last year’s Tennessee squad, the production they are taking with them (which is a lot), a couple of the returning players, and who the newcomers are that are going to be tasked with following behind what is arguably the greatest basketball team the University of Tennessee has ever produced. Let’s wrap up our discussion here.
What We Can Expect from The Newcomers
We ended last weeks article with a quick profile of the 6 first-year Vols that are currently listed on U.T.’s roster. Now we are going to take a deeper look at these guys by position group.
The Backcourt [Victor Bailey, Jr., Davonte Gaines, Josiah-Jordan James]
I will make the first part of this section quick. Victor Bailey, Jr. will be sitting out this upcoming season as part of his transfer process.
He will still practice with the team and start the 2020-2021 season as a Junior with two years to play on Rocky Top.
Now for the two new guards who will immediately join the backcourt for the Vols. While maybe not the most important group of newcomers as far as what the team as a whole will need, it is the position group I believe is the most talented. Josiah-Jordan James, the number one player in the state of South Carolina and the number 21 overall player in the country (per 247sports) in the 2019 signing class, will have immediate impact.
From the tape and highlights I have watched, I see a very strong player who will most likely come in and play at the small forward position. Being a lefty will automatically cause James to be a match-up problem for some players. His high school stats and game film indicate to me he is not a big outside shooter, so look for him to be a mid-range, slashing forward that can defend any position aside from center. I can also see him being used as a “point-forward” that brings the ball up the court and initiates offensive sets when needed. James will be a starter for most of, if not the entire, season.
James’ counterpart in the class, Davonte Gaines, is probably the newcomer that I am most intrigued by. While I think James will leave either after his first or second season on Rocky Top, I see Gaines as being the player from this class that stays for all four years and has an impact in each of them. While not near as highly rated as Josiah-Jordan James, Gaines comes into his freshman season at U.T. from Hargrave Military Academy, which has produced former Vols such as Stanley Asumnu and Tyler Smith. Rated by Rivals as the 48th small forward in the county, Gaines has, in my opinion, flown under the radar. His height (6’7”) and skill set are going to allow him to play either the two or three, and he will be able to match up defensively with some of the smaller 4s in the SEC.
The film I have watched on Gaines shows me he has a high basketball I.Q. and is very unselfish (he notched 3 quadruple doubles in one season in high school). He is active on the defensive end and has a nice stroke from the outside. Like James, Gaines is a lefty, but doesn’t seem to be weaker on one side of the court compared to the other. To me, his weaknesses are his ball handling and speed, and he will definitely need to put on a few pounds. Gaines isn’t as polished as James, but I look for him to be a stat-sheet-stuffer and a player that Rick Barnes will get the absolute most out of. I think he will be in this season’s rotation, and maybe climb as high as 6th or 7th man by the end of the season.
The Two 4-Men [Olivier Nkamhoua and Drew Pember]
While I don’t know how Barnes will line the players up eventually, I see both Olivier Nkamhoua and Knoxville’s own Drew Pember spending their Big Orange careers as Power Forwards. Starting with Nkamhoua, he chose the Vols over programs like Pittsburgh, Illinois, Maryland, and Minnesota among others, and was Rivals’ 24th best Power Forward prospect coming out of high school. Nkamhoua went largely unnoticed by the casual fan and spectator due to an injury sidelining him for the entirety of his junior year. As a senior, he garnered a lot of attention in Big 10 Country, and had a tremendous showing during the 2018 Capitol Hoops Summer League.
Nkamhoua’s tape shows me a player who will utilize his already large (6’8”/216lbs) frame to get to the basket, and is extremely active on the offensive glass. He is very athletic and has good footwork, but I wouldn’t look for him to take many shots soutside of 10 feet from the basket, at least during his freshman year. While I believe he will be the first 4 man off of the bench to begin the season, don’t be surprised if Nkamhoua eventually cracks the starting lineup and stays there.
Drew Pember is a different story. While much more lithe than Nkamhoua, he stands closer to 6’10” and is definitely more mid-range/perimeter oriented. I’ve seen Pember play in person and watched his film, and he just seems to always know what to do with the basketball. He is extremely unselfish- almost to a fault- and has incredible range for someone his height. He has a nice looking set-shot from anywhere outside the arc and good touch anywhere within it. Much like Davonte Gaines, Pember is going to have to hit the weight room and eat some steaks before he can reach his full potential. He already has some intangibles that separate him from others his height (shooting, ability to run the floor, good hands), but in order to compete in the Grown Man’s SEC, he will need to fill out.
Pember has already been around Division 1 talent while starring at Bearden, so I think he will have a smooth transition into U.T.’s program and atmosphere. I have no problem saying that while I don’t think he will be the best player to come out of this incoming class, and I do think he will take a redshirt year, Pember will be the one I am rooting for the hardest, and I truly believe he will be a consistent contributor down the road for the Vols.
The Big Unit [Uros Plavsic]
Plavsic, the Arizona State transfer, is probably the player that Tennessee’s success this year will hinge upon. That is a big statement, I know, but it is 100 percent my take. As of the time of this article going out, he is not yet cleared by the NCAA to participate in the 2019-2020 season. However, everything I have read points towards him getting said waiver. I think we are in trouble if he doesn’t. It isn’t that I think he is going to come in and averages 20 and 10 in his freshman season, but Tennessee is very light in the pants at the Center position.
Any legit 7-foot man is going to have an impact on a basketball court, but Plavsic also has some skill. Like Pember, and his Volunteer predecessor Kyle Alexander, Plavsic runs the floor well and seems to be very athletic. He has a solid frame at 7’/236 lbs., and I expect him to continue to improve his body (remember Grant and Admiral’s before-and-after photos?). His tape shows me he has a soft touch of put backs and shots within three to five feet of the basket, but that same tape gives me no information on how he fares with a little distance between he and the hoop. Defensively, he goes straight up and allows his size to alter shots. He may not block every shot, but his opponents will know he is able to, and that will play into his favor.
He is a different big-man than Tennessee fans are used to, and it is going to be interesting to see how he is utilized by Barnes in this upcoming season should he be cleared. Should he be cleared, I see Plavsic being a day-1 starter for the Vols. He may not be able to log a ton of minutes, but more than your typical freshman Center as he has a season of practicing with a Division 1 team at a Power-5 school.
My Projected Lineup/Rotation
Now I am certain that the starting lineup will be tinkered with throughout the season, and some games may call for small-ball or some other variation, but this is how I think our 2019-2020 Vols will look most of the time.
PG- Lamonte Turner
SG- Jordan Bowden
SF- Josiah-Jordan James
PF- John Fulkerson
C- Uros Plavsic
- Olivier Nkamhoua
- Jalen Johnson
- Davonte Gaines
- Yves Pons
- Zach Kent
Final- Season Projection and Outlook
While I will be writing an article soon that looks more at the schedule, I will go ahead and say I believe that the Vols will finish the season with 20 wins (not more than 20; twenty). I believe we take our absolute beat downs (i.e. Memphis and Kentucky), but end up as one of the 68 NCAA tournament teams via an at-large bid. With the 2020 recruiting class already shaping up to be a historic one on Rocky Top, I think fans will temper expectations for this season as we already have a feel for what is on the horizon. I look for this to be a fun season with us becoming familiar with a new core group of guys, and seeing the first glimpses of whether or not Barnes deserved that massive contract.
Check back in a couple of weeks, and I’ll take a look at the Vols 2019-2020 schedule and project which 20 games we will win, as well as where I think we will end up in the SEC ranks. GO VOLS!
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