KNOXVILLE — In his first month as the Tennessee men's basketball coach, Donnie Tyndall signed eight new players, including a pair of immediately eligible transfers.
His best and most important recruiting job, though, almost certainly involved a returning player.
In the aftermath of Cuonzo Martin's departure and the Volunteers' ensuing coaching change, former five-star recruit Robert Hubbs III flirted with following close friends and teammates Darius Thompson and A.J. Davis in exploring his transfer options. But Tyndall and his staff trekked out to Newbern in West Tennessee last month and convinced the guard to stay.
"I was kind of expecting Robert to leave, too, honestly, because they're all best friends," rising senior Josh Richardson said Tuesday. "I was just really happy to see him stay. I think he's going to be a good player here."
Tennessee fended off some of the nation's top programs to land Hubbs in 2012, and it took a selling job from the Vols' new coach to hold on to a talented player who figures to be one of the cornerstones of Tyndall's first UT team.
As a freshman, Hubbs was limited by a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery in January, and after a 12-game cameo, leaving Tennessee would have forced him to sit out a year due to NCAA rules.
"It was very tough," the 6-foot-6 guard said. "I thought about leaving a couple of times, but I just had to build a relationship with Coach Tyndall and his staff. They came to my house and talked to my family, and I just decided to stay here at Tennessee. I thought it was the best fit for me."
The uncertainty of a coaching change can be tricky for returning players and signed recruits, though the number of returning-player and signee defections for Tennessee seemed higher than usual.
Derek Reese, whose AAU coaches with the Florida Rams Q6 All-Stars in Orlando -- Willie Anderson and Reggie Tucker -- played at LSU while Tyndall was an assistant there, really was the only returning Vol who had any insight on the new coach.
"When we didn't know who was coming and it was kind of uncertain, I was upset," Reese said. "Coach Martin was leaving and all of the coaches were leaving. I had built relationships with them.
"I heard some stuff about [Tyndall] -- that he's fired up, a very enthusiastic guy, and how he can get you better and push you," the 6-8 forward added. "That's all I kept hearing from everybody who was telling me: He's going to push you hard as you can, he's not going to sugarcoat anything, and I think that's what we need in a coach to be successful and make you better."
For Hubbs, simply "getting to know" Tyndall and learning about his style of play swayed him to stay.
That's all in the past now, and Hubbs is now focused on the season ahead and showing why he was such a touted recruit, something he feels he was unable to do last season.
"I'm very anxious," he said. "I think about it every day. I can't wait for the season to start. I'm just ready to get out there and prove what I can do and lead the team as far as I can go.
"[The injury] impacted me a lot," he added, "but I just wanted to be out there with my guys as long as possible until they told me I could go no more. I played through it; I fought through it like a man. I think I went as long as possible."
Hubbs traveled with the team following his surgery and was a spectator as the Vols made a run to the Sweet 16, which he said in Indianapolis before Tennessee's regional semifinal game against Michigan really made him "want to get back here."
First things first, though: Hubbs has to be cleared for full contact.
"He went through the full workout [Monday]," Tyndall said. "The little bit we did with the pad in regard to hitting guys as they drive it, we avoided that with Robert. He will be fully released and 100 percent to go with contact probably mid-June or early July.
"He knows it was tough sitting out that entire season, or most of the season. He feels like he has a lot to prove, and he was great in his first workout having been out for quite some time."
And Tennessee will need him to play that way when the season arrives.
"He's going to be," Richardson said, "a big part to us this year."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com
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 ...