If he’s eligible, can Bonds help Tennessee at the point?

It was just coincidence that former Christ Presbyterian Academy point guard Braxton Bonds showed up at Tennessee around the same time the Vols’ Brandon Lopez, who was ticketed for some serious minutes at the point, went down with an ACL injury. But it’s not a certainty that Bonds, who was offered a scholarship by LSU after his junior year, can step in and replace Lopez.

For starters, Bonds may have to wait a year to become eligible. NCAA rules state that an athlete’s eligibility clock starts ticking the minute he sets foot in a classroom. Bonds, who signed with Liberty, even though he might not have wanted to go to school that far away from his Nashville home, started class there in June. But he soon realized he would be more comfortable closer to home.

“My heart was leaning towards coming back home,” Bonds told The Tennessean. “It was such a big move. I’ve never been away from home that far. It had nothing to do with Liberty, but I felt like I needed to be closer to home.”

Liberty coach Dale Layer was good enough to allow Bonds a release from his scholarship, but technically, Bonds would have to sit out an entire year before becoming eligible at Tennessee.

Luckily for Bonds, the NCAA hasn’t yet passed a rule that automatically mandates a one-year redshirt year for all transfers, regardless of the reason they decide to leave. It’s possible Bonds could have an appeal after leaving Liberty so quickly, and if the NCAA takes pity on him, he could find himself suiting up for the Vols in 2014-15.

Tennessee coaches did their homework after receiving a call from CPA coach Drew Maddux, the former Vanderbilt player who has built a state power, having won consecutive state championships in 2012-13 and lost at the buzzer trying for a third last March. The consensus was that Bonds is a legitimate scholarship player who, for various reasons, wound up at lower level of Division I than he was qualified to compete. LSU’s offer proves that.

Maddux, a former All-SEC player at Vanderbilt, knows what it takes to play at that level. And he thinks Bonds is capable.

“I really do,” Maddux said. “Just because of his mental and emotional makeup. And his advanced skill set, and the way he views the game and picks up concepts. He’s a great passer and a high-level defensive player. He’s outstanding in pick-and-roll situations, which we’ve been drilling him in since the sixth grade.

“Braxton is a kid that knows where all five players should be, and he views the game from that lens.”

Maddux told Bonds before he entered high school that he thought the player could be special. He was certain of it after Bonds led CPA to consecutive state titles. A succession of outstanding future Division I players have made their way through CPA under Maddux’s watch, but Bonds was their leader, on and off the court.

Bonds can’t possibly match the experience level of Lopez, who had worked hard as a walk-on waiting for his chance, played in 31 career games and was proving to new Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall and his staff that he was capable of handling significant minutes. But Bonds has legitimate point guard skills and the makeup to facilitate offense for others, even while limiting his own scoring opportunities. That’s the sign of a true point man.

“All he needs is a shot,” Maddux said. “The Tennessee staff will fall in love with that kid. Now, Braxton has never been at that level. He’s never been through a college workout. We’re just going straight off paper and my history with him. But I’ve known the kid and coached him since the sixth grade. And I think if he gets a chance, the Tennessee coaches are going to love him.”

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