A huge question surrounding Tennessee basketball this year surrounds the post game with John Fulkerson and Uros Plavsic gone. However, there are two things that should help. Personnel wise, Uros Plavsic and Jonas Aidoo are back with more experience, and Olivier Nkamhoua returns from a season-ending injury.
However, Rick Barnes also discovered small ball down the stretch of last year’s season to win the SEC Tournament Championship, and he has now loaded up on the wing to give him the flexibility to play that. Barnes and the Vols have five players who could be in the rotation at the three.
The two most experienced players on the Vols are on that list. Obviously, Josiah-Jordan James is the most obvious name. He is a senior who was once a five-star, a deadly combination, and he is one of 20 players on the Julius Erving Award Preseason Watch List, which goes specifically to the nation’s best wing player.
Last year, though, James was the one who spent significant time at the four after Nkamhoua got hurt. Barnes would run Kennedy Chandler and Zakai Zeigler together in the backcourt. Santiago Vescovi would then move to the three.
As UT’s most efficient scorer the past two years, Vescovi is another senior and is on the Jerry West Award Preseason Watch List for the nation’s best shooting guard. At 6’4″, he’s more than capable of staying at the three, but he’s deadly at the two, and he can even play the one.
James and Vescovi bring the experience that is a huge part of the preseason hype behind the Vols. However, Barnes also got the prized recruit on the wing in 6’8″ scoring forward Julian Phillips, a five-star already drawing comparisons to Kevin Durant.
Most likely, all three start at the two, three and four, but all can play the wing. One is a one-and-done, and the other are up for postseason awards. Already, Barnes is loaded with what he can do at the three, and that’s not all.
Remember, Tennessee basketball returns Jahmai Mashack. A four-star in last year’s recruiting class, Mashack is expected to take a leap forward this year and is another one who could play anywhere from the two to the four depending on how small Barnes plays.
Then there’s D.J. Jefferson, a four-star wing in this class. He and Mashack will likely compete for the second wing spot behind James even though Phillips and Vescovi can move over there too. Yes, the Vols can go five-deep with elite talent at the wing.
Taking this into account, Tennessee basketball should have tons of advantages on the wing this year. They all bring different skills too. Vescovi is a combo guard, James is a defensive specialist, and Phillips is a scorer. Mashack and Jefferson have similar profiles, to be fair.
Tyreke Key and B.J. Edwards coming in along with Zeigler returning is what gives Vescovi the flexibility to play the three. As for Phillips, that depends on Aidoo, Plavsic and Nkamhoua, and Tobe Awaka emerging wouldn’t hurt either.