Robert Hubbs’ decision to return to Tennessee’s basketball team rather than transfer along with classmates Darius Thompson and A.J. Davis helps present a clearer picture of what new coach Donnie Tyndall will have to work with in his first season.
Though there’s still some recruiting work left to be done, it’s obvious the Vols’ strength will be at the wing positions. There’s no reason to think senior Josh Richardson can’t continue his excellent play in the NCAA tournament, where he averaged 19.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists and shot .617 from the field. Richardson is also a defensive stopper, too, so he’s made for Tyndall’s system.
So too is junior Armani Moore, who was recruited by Tyndall when the latter was putting his first class together at Southern Miss. There’s a familiarity between the two, and Moore epitomizes what Tyndall likes in his players. Not a jump shooter, Moore is nevertheless a playmaker because of his length and athletic ability. Tyndall will put him to good use defensively in his 2-1-2 press and match-up zone, and on the other end, he’ll spread the floor to open up driving lanes, which Moore can travel along in a hurry on his way to the rim.
Then there’s Hubbs, whose freshman season was cut short after shoulder surgery. Given that he was a five-star recruit, it’s obvious he has talent. Before his injury surfaced, he was still learning the nuances of playing on the perimeter after being anchored in the post in his high school career. But if what Hubbs told Volquest’s Rob Lewis is true, and he’s willing to be pushed and coached by Tyndall, it’s reasonable to expect he can become a load as a post-up threat, a driver and a jump shooter.
To this dangerous mix Tyndall will add first-team junior college All-American Kevin Punter, who one Division I coach who recruited him all season called “old school.” He meant that in the best possible sense of the term. Punter shot 57 percent from the field in his final season of junior college ball, impressive for a guard. He did that because he’s got a midrange game, a weapon that has become somewhat a lost art. He can also make free throws, and at 6-4, with a long wingspan, he’s got the physical tools to defend. What he needs is to add some bulk to his 170-pound frame.
At present there’s no point guard to run the show, at least until recruit Detrick Mostella makes it through the NCAA clearinghouse. Tennessee coaches aren’t too concerned about that, but they won’t breathe easy until it’s done. Mostella is a combo guard and yet another amazing athlete. Check out the videos of him winning a dunk contest in Hawaii.
The other concern about the well-traveled Mostella, who’s from Alabama but has attended two prep schools and committed to both Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh, is that he’s got a lot to learn about playing the point. Scoring points always deal in that gray area of knowing when to facilitate and when to hunt their own shot. That’s got to be especially tough for a player who’s as talented offensively as Mostella, who’s also a good jump shooter.
Tennessee is still looking to add another point guard. It could well be Rasham Suarez, who signed with Southern Miss but is considering asking for a release so he can join Tyndall in Knoxville. By all accounts, Suarez is a pure point who has good size (6-3, 205) and is a fierce competitor. The native of Puerto Rico is also tough and a good facilitator. In three head-to-head match-ups with Louisville’s Chris Jones, including in the 2013 junior college national championship game, Suarez got the better of his opponent.
Tennessee’s frontcourt is far less settled. Don’t look for Pops Ndiaye, a senior after transferring from junior college last season, to contribute in Tyndall’s system. Derek Reese has a chance, but he’ll have to work to beat out the players Tyndall’s staff hopes to add.
Among them is Phil Cofer, who signed with Tennessee last November but asked for his release after Tyndall was hired. At 6-9, he’s wiry and bouncy, exactly the kind of post player Tyndall likes to have. But before the Vols can reclaim Cofer, he’s visiting Florida State and Georgia Tech.
Cofer could join with another Tyndall recruit, 6-8 Jabari McGhee, who is a great athlete and rebounder, though far from a finished product offensively.
And a third young, slender post, 6-10 Tariq Owens, is visiting Knoxville, and many sources consider him a lock to become a Vol. Like McGhee, his offensive game is limited to tip-ins, but he plays hard, rebounds and block shots. His length in the back of Tyndall’s press and in the zone will be formidable.