Transfer of McGhee gives Vols a chance to add size to frontcourt

Last year during his aborted freshman season, Tennessee forward Jabari McGhee was listed somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-foot-7 or 6-8. Before the current season began, McGhee had somehow shrunk.

New Tennessee coach Rick Barnes doesn’t want the heights and weights of his players inflated. And when it was revealed that McGhee, once thought to be a potentially useful power forward, was just 6-5, that might have foreshadowed the announcement that came late Tuesday night.

The redshirt freshman, who played in just nine games a year ago before breaking a foot and five games this season, announced he was transferring at the semester break.

“Jabari and I had a great discussion about what he wants,” Barnes said in a Tennessee release. “He’s a team guy, and what he ultimately wants is to have a more impactful role on his team, which I understand. We love him, and we want to see him be successful. We’ll do everything we can to help him find a school that is the right fit for him.”

As a 6-8 power forward, and given his ability to rebound and collect garbage baskets, McGhee might have had an impactful role. At 6-5, he was just another spare part with which Barnes and his staff realized they couldn’t win many games.

Oh, McGhee was capable of the occasional solid effort. Last month he scored 10 points, a career high, in a loss at Georgia Tech and gave the Vols a chance to win. But consistently, a 6-5 power forward doesn’t stand a chance in the Southeastern Conference.

Some might ask why Barnes decided to sign 6-5 Grant Williams, listed as a forward, last month. The answer is that Williams is a chiseled 235 pounds, smart enough to have been recruited by several of the better programs in the Ivy League and crafty around the basket. Even when he coached in the Big 12 at Texas, Barnes made good use of an undersized four man.

McGhee didn’t have all the requisite skills to give up three- to five inches to an opponent and survive. He’ll be better served as a lower level of Division I, maybe the Southern Conference, or the Ohio Valley. He’s the last of the three frontcourt prospects signed by former coach Donnie Tyndall to have departed, Tariq Owens having transferred last offseason to St. John’s and Willie Carmichael following him out the door to Western Kentucky.

Former Tennessee assistant Chris Shumate, now working for WKU coach Roy Harper, said recently that Carmichael, sitting out as a redshirt, has been impressive and will wind up being a key player for the Hilltoppers.

Barnes and his staff used the scholarships abandoned by Owens and Carmichael to improve at their positions, but sophomore Ray Kasongo and freshman Kyle Alexander have a way to go before they can help consistently. Given some playing time in a blowout loss to Nebraska last week, both showed signs of being able to get some things done, and at 6-8 and 6-9, respectively, that gave them the edge over McGhee.

He made a good decision to leave.

What does Tennessee do with that open scholarship? It’s going to scour the country, maybe the world (Canada and Australia are two countries the staff has decided to recruit) to find a legitimate big man who can rebound and protect the rim. Kasongo and Alexander will eventually be able to do that, but as Barnes proved at Texas, it’s impossible to have too many bigs.

The college game may have become more guard oriented in the last couple of decades, but teams with size, with multiple players that can defend the goal and get easy inside baskets, invariably are the ones that advance in postseason play.

Barnes alluded to that in his Tuesday press conference, after facing massive post players in consecutive games against George Washington and Nebraska and losing both.

“We played against some teams that had more size,” Barnes said. “And I think we played against one team in particular, in GW, that does a great job of really working that high-percentage area in the lane. That’s who they are, that’s what they do, that’s their identity.”

Barnes’ Texas teams had that identity, and he knows that in order to do battle with Kentucky, Florida, and now even Vanderbilt, which starts mobile seven-footers Damian Jones and Luke Kornet, the Vols are going to have to get bigger.

McGee did Tennessee a favor. Perhaps the Vol staff can still find a good high school big, or maybe Canada or Australia will produce one. Junior college players haven’t been ruled out, either.

Tennessee’s recruiting class, thought to be finished in November, will now grow by one in April. It’ll be interesting seeing what Barnes and his assistants turn up.

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