Tyndall 'remarkable' in refilling UT Vols roster

Tyndall 'remarkable' in refilling UT Vols roster

May 25th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall answers questions from the media at the Big Orange Caravan appearance at The Chattanoogan in this file photo.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

TURNOVER TIMELINE

Tennessee's basketball program underwent more than just a coaching change since the Volunteers lost 73-71 to Michigan in the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis on March 28. After Cuonzo Martin left to become the head coach at California, Tennessee hired Donnie Tyndall, and the Vols' new coach has replaced a depleted signing class and then some.

Here's a recap of Tennessee's many changes since the season ended.

April 3: Quinton Chievous, a seldom-used redshirt sophomore, decides to graduate early and transfer from the program.

April 11: Forward Jarnell Stokes declares to enter the NBA draft following an All-SEC junior season.

April 14: Kingsley Okoroh, a 7-foot-1 center from an Arizona prep school, commits to become the fifth member of Martin's incoming class, which included four fall signees: Illinois point guard Larry Austin, New Orleans wing Jordan Cornish and Georgia forwards Phil Cofer and C.J. Turman.

April 15: After flirting with Marquette two weeks earlier, Martin decides to take the job at Cal after three seasons with the Vols, and Okoroh switches his commitment to the Golden Bears.

April 22: Tennessee's search for a replacement ends as Tyndall, previously the coach at Morehead State and Southern Mississippi, is introduced as the Vols' new coach.

April 23: Cornish and Austin request and are granted releases from their national letters of intent.

April 25: Cofer, the son of a former Tennessee linebacker, is granted a release from his NLI.

April 28: Turman completes his request for a release, leaving the Vols with an empty incoming class.

May 2: Tyndall's tear of replenishing a roster with just seven returning scholarship players -- at the time -- begins by signing Hargrave Military Academy forward Jabari McGhee.

May 5: Kevin Punter, a junior college All-American guard and former Missouri commitment, signs with Tennessee, but two rising sophomores -- point guard Darius Thompson and forward A.J. Davis -- request releases from their scholarships.

May 6: Turman signs to play at Florida Atlantic, where his high school coach is now on staff as an assistant.

May 8: Two days after Tyndall and his staff travel to visit him and his family in West Tennessee, Robert Hubbs III, a former five-star guard and rising sophomore, announces on Twitter he will return to the Vols instead of following Thompson and Davis in asking for a release. Prep school guard Detrick Mostella, a former top-50 recruit, signs with the Vols.

May 10: Cofer commits to Florida State even after Tyndall and his staff traveled to Georgia the previous week to try and keep the 6-8 forward in the Vols fold. Austin commits to Xavier.

May 12: Transferring Florida Gulf Coast forward Eric McKnight commits to play his fifth and final year of eligibility with the Vols. He would sign six days later.

May 13: Tyndall lands a trifecta of players: Former Southern Miss signees Devon Baulkman and Willie Carmichael and fifth-year IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles join Tennessee's incoming class.

May 20: Thompson decides to transfer to Virginia, and Cornish commits to UNLV.

May 21: Tyndall lands his eighth player when Maryland forward Tariq Owens, a former Ohio signee, decides to sign with the Vols.

ROSTER REVIEW

Is the roster Tyndall has pieced together better than the one Tennessee would have had had Martin stayed? Here's what Martin's might have looked like and how Tyndall's currently stands.

MARTIN

Projected starters:

G Darius Thompson

G Robert Hubbs III

G Josh Richardson

F Armani Moore

F Derek Reese

Bench:

F A.J. Davis

G Larry Austin

G Jordan Cornish

F Phil Cofer

F C.J. Turman

C Pops Ndiaye

C Kingsley Okoroh

TYNDALL

Projected starters:

G Ian Chiles

G Robert Hubbs III

G Josh Richardson

F Armani Moore

F Eric McKnight

Bench:

G Kevin Punter

G Detrick Mostella

G Devon Baulkman

F Derek Reese

F Jabari McGhee

F Tariq Owens

F Willie Carmichael

C Pops Ndiaye

KNOXVILLE - Within his first two weeks as Tennessee's basketball coach, Donnie Tyndall had four incoming signees bail and two returning players decide to transfer.

His first month with the Volunteers in the books, those defections seem like small speed bumps that long have faded from the rearview mirror.

Eight additions and a little more than three weeks later, Tyndall has replenished Tennessee's roster to the brim, mixing and matching junior college and prep school prospects with immediately eligible fifth-year transfers and players he signed at his previous school.

Pulling in eight new players is difficult to do in basketball at any time, much less the last days of the late signing period.

"I think he's done a remarkable job putting a roster together, because I was actually concerned [if] we'd have enough players to have meaningful practices at one point, but he's done a great job of patching together a roster and actually with some pretty competitive kids," Tennessee athletic director Dave Hart told the Times Free Press in Johnson City last Tuesday.

"This isn't the template going forward, but for what he was dealt with and the time frame -- he's done this in a month. He's done a really outstanding job of putting together a roster."

When the four high school players who signed with the Vols and former coach Cuonzo Martin last fall decided to open their options -- all four have committed to other programs -- within a week of Tyndall's hiring, it left Tennessee's roster at seven players for next season.

When returning players Darius Thompson and A.J. Davis were given releases from their scholarships, it canceled out the signings of Jabari McGhee and Kevin Punter to knock the Vols back down to seven players. Then Tyndall and Tennessee added five players in six days -- including four in a two-day span -- and rounded out the haul by signing Tariq Owens this past week.

Instead of lamenting the situation, Tyndall and his staff simply kept their heads down and got creative in finding players.

"You always have your list in your pocket," assistant coach Chris Shumate said earlier this month. "You always kind of know. That's what we do: We network every day all day.

"You keep your ear to the ground, and maybe a guy who was going to go here but he's not going to go there, who you know -- it's a big network and we're exhausting every lead we possibly can."

Tyndall had recruited Punter while at Morehead State. He moved on a couple of players assistant coach Al Pinkins was recruiting while at Ole Miss. He brought Devon Baulkman and Willie Carmichael from the class he signed at Southern Miss.

Though he admitted earlier this week he didn't agree with the rule, Tyndall landed a couple of fifth-year transfers in Ian Chiles and Eric McKnight who are immediately eligible for a one-year rental.

"Donnie's a relentless guy, a relentless guy," Pinkins said earlier this month. "We left here last night probably about 11:30. We're trying to circle the wagons on all the available players out there. We're in here early; we're up here late. We're going to make sure we put a team together that can have a chance to compete for an SEC championship and beyond.

"He's one of the hardest-working guys I know in college basketball."

While quickly flipping an inherited roster like he did at Morehead State and Southern Miss, Tyndall has set it up where he'll have at least four scholarships to give in the 2015 class.

How the patchwork roster will perform on the court next season is anybody's guess. The Vols have a budding star in Josh Richardson, a former five-star recruit in Robert Hubbs III and a seemingly perfect fit for the new system in Armani Moore. Questions remain about the point guard spot and the frontcourt.

In the here and now, though, the outlook certainly looks less bleak than it did a few weeks ago.

"I think he deserves a lot of credit for being able to pull this off," Hart said. "He's done it with a mixture, as you know, of high school kids with four years of eligibility, a couple of guys who have ther fifth year, a couple of junior college kids who have a couple of years left. He's done it with a lot of foresight in mind.

"I'm excited about it. He's excited about it. His style of play, every kid he's recruited fits what he wants to do offensively and defensively. He definitely recruits to his style and the way he wants to play.

"Some of these players [are] no different than if he had a full year to recruit. He's already recruiting for next season. Some of these kids will have to be developed. Others are probably maybe a half-year away or a year away, but they can all contribute at some point."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.