published Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

Kevin Punter 'fitting in' with new-look UT Vols basketball team

KNOXVILLE — To replenish a depleted roster, new Tennessee men's basketball coach Donnie Tyndall resorted to finding fifth-year transfers, junior college players and released high school signees.

Of that patchwork bunch, Kevin Punter might have taken the most unusual path to joining the Volunteers.

Just how did a 6-foot-4 guard from The Bronx in New York City end up in Sedalia, a town of a little more than 20,000 in central Missouri, anyway?

"At the beginning I kind of thought about it, but now us coming together, we seem more united and more as one," Punter said before one of his Rocky Top League games this summer. "None of us really look at it like that. We look at it like we're all apart of Tennessee, and we're in here for one goal: Get our degrees and try to win as many basketball games as possible."

Punter will need to help provide scoring for a Vols program that lost four of its top five scorers from last season. His track record says he can.

He finished his career at Salesian High School in New Rochelle in 2011 as the program's second all-time leading scorer after averaging 28 points as a senior. In one season at Body of Christ Christian Academy, a prep school in Raleigh, N.C., he scored 24 points per game.

Punter averaged 13 points per game in his first season at State Fair Community College in Missouri, and after scoring at a 20.3-point clip this past season for the Roadrunners -- with 57 percent shooting on field goals, 37 percent on 3-pointers and 83 percent on free throws -- he committed to play for Missouri.

Then Frank Haith left the Tigers to coach Tulsa, and Tyndall, who recruited Punter while coaching at Morehead State, landed at Tennessee.

"It's been great," Punter said. "I don't regret anything. Great coaching staff, great teammates. I've been fitting in pretty good, changing my body and getting accustomed to everything, so since I've been here, everything's been treating me well."

Punter didn't commit to Missouri publicly until early April, and though he didn't keep up much with the Vols during the season, he certainly noticed their NCAA tournament run to the Sweet 16.

"I paid attention to a lot of teams," he said. "I was actually watching the game when they played Michigan. I didn't follow them all year around, but I was aware what was going on, and even then, last year they were a pretty good team. That's what we're going to try to do this year."

First, though, Punter and many of Tennessee's other newcomers are in the same boat in needing to add weight and muscle to long, skinny frames. Freshman Willie Carmichael added more than 10 pounds in a matter of weeks after arriving on campus.

"As you can see, I probably needed it just as much as he did," Punter joked. "It's changed all of us. Just changing our bodies and how we eat, just different things like that, and it's definitely helped our game."

Punter, who will wear No. 0, is listed generously at 180 pounds, and he's added nearly 10 pounds to whatever he actually does weigh since getting to Knoxville.

As for his role, Punter likely will help provide a scoring punch off Tennessee's bench behind Josh Richardson and Robert Hubbs III, who's coming off January shoulder surgery, and slide over to play minutes at point guard if needed.

"That's definitely an option, but I'm a 2-guard, a scoring 2-guard," he said. "If Coach needs me to play a little bit of the [point], I'm real flexible. I'm can play multiple positions, so I wouldn't mind doing that, but I want to win and I'm going to put my teammates in front of myself. The coaches are going to put all of us in the best situation as a team and a unit."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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