KNOXVILLE - With the four-man signing class entirely depleted, the post-coaching-change attrition hit the Tennessee men's basketball program's returning cast Monday afternoon.
Point guard Darius Thompson and forward A.J. Davis, both rising sophomores, have requested and been granted releases from their Volunteers scholarships and will look to transfer to other programs.
"Darius and A.J. have asked for their release to explore their options," new coach Donnie Tyndall said before Monday night's Big Orange Caravan stop in Atlanta, "and as I've said with the other young men that decided not to attend Tennessee, we obviously want guys that want to be here.
"Now I don't think in either case, at least what they're telling me, that these guys have made their mind up to not come back. The door has been left open. We certainly hope that they'll come back. But at the end of the day, they need to be comfortable in what they're going to do with the rest of their careers, so we've released them to explore their options with the hopes that they'll decide to return."
Amid rumors that Robert Hubbs III, the former five-star recruit who missed most of his freshman season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery in January, joined his two classmates in requesting a release, his father told the Times Free Press via phone that was not the case and as of now "we're still a Tennessee Vol."
However, Hubbs Jr. said he would discuss his son's future with him next week when he comes home following his last final exam.
"I want what's best for him," Hubbs Jr. said. "We've got a lot to talk about."
The 6-foot-5, 181-pound Thompson was likely to start at point guard for the Vols. The Murfreesboro Blackman High School graduate played in all 37 games for Tennessee this past season and started 10. He averaged 2.6 points and nearly two rebounds per game while leading the Vols in steals (36) and finishing second in assists (81) behind Jordan McRae.
The 2013 TSSAA Mr. Basketball finalist committed to Vanderbilt before reopening his recruitment and signing with Tennessee last spring.
"Right now, we don't know what's going to happen," Thompson's father, Lonnie -- the men's basketball coach at Cumberland University in Lebanon -- told The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. "We have no idea. He just thought it was time to move on. He didn't feel like it was the place to be for him."
The 6-9, 212-pound Davis, the son of former NBA forward and current ESPN analyst Antonio Davis, played in 25 games last season with one start against Tennessee Tech. He averaged 9.4 minutes for the season, but he played just 10 total minutes following a nine-minute appearance against Florida in early February.
Davis was a so-called 'tweener who needed to improve his shooting and perimeter skills and increase his strength levels to play inside, where the Vols used him last season, but his blend of length and athletic ability gave him some upside for the rest of his career.
"I came here to play for Coach Martin," Davis told the Knoxville News Sentinel. "It's a different situation."
Like the signing class Martin assembled, Tennessee's players grew close with their former coach amid the criticism and job speculation he faced during his third season. Thompson and Davis both signed for Martin. Other players showed support publicly when he suddenly left to coach at California.
In an interview with the Times Free Press two days after his introduction, Tyndall addressed that loyalty to his predecessor.
"I appreciate those guys being loyal to Coach Martin," he said. "I think that's a great characteristic or trait to have, and I would think my guys at Southern Miss would be much the same way. I think that's a positive. I don't think in any way, shape or form there's any negative that comes out of that. Obviously as a new coach I have to sell myself to them, and that's my job.
"Their job is to buy in and adapt to how we're going to do things. Some things may be very similar. Some things may be drastically different, but at the end of the day, I've got to do my job and the players have to do theirs, and if they do, then we'll end up being tight and a family just like they were with Coach Martin."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.