UT Vols land Florida Gulf Coast transfer Eric McKnight

UT Vols land Florida Gulf Coast transfer Eric McKnight

May 13th, 2014 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Donnie Tyndall

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Tennessee hit the transfer waiver wire to continue replenishing its basketball roster for new coach Donnie Tyndall's first season.

Florida Gulf Coast transfer Eric McKnight committed to play his final season of eligibility with the Volunteers on Monday.

The 6-foot-9 forward, part of the "Dunk City" Eagles team that made a memorable run to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament, will be eligible this season as a fifth-year graduate transfer.

McKnight told the Times Free Press by phone Monday he planned to visit Knoxville this weekend and sign scholarship papers while on campus.

"Pretty much my decision was based on the tradition there at Tennessee," he said. "It's a big program. They did really good last year, and they have a new coaching staff, and Coach Tyndall, he's a big name. I wanted to go somewhere they work with bigs, and I think with my experience and being a big man, I thought that was the right fit for me."

The Raleigh, N.C., native signed with Iowa State out of Princeton Day Academy, a prep school in New Jersey, in 2010 and played just 54 minutes in 14 appearances as a freshman before transferring to Florida Gulf Coast.

After sitting out a season due to NCAA rules, McKnight averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game with 34 starts and finished third in the Atlantic Sun Conference in blocks (47) and second on the team in dunks (38) in 2012-13. He had three dunks in Florida Gulf Coast's second-round upset of San Diego State, including one he caught behind his head.

This past season, McKnight averaged 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 66 percent from the field.

The connection between the Vols and McKnight was a relationship between Tennessee assistant coach Al Pinkins and Florida Gulf Coast assistant coach Marty Richter, who spent a couple of seasons as an assistant at Chipola College in Florida, where Pinkins played before finishing his collegiate career at North Carolina State.

McKnight, who reportedly was going to visit Wichita State as well as the Vols, said Tyndall's work with Kenneth Faried, another bouncy forward who plays for the Denver Nuggets, at Morehead State stood out to him in a relationship that began recently.

"It was just research and talking to him," McKnight said of Tyndall.

"I just know that he's very good with bigs. He worked with Kenneth Faried, and he got a couple of players that I've known personally. I heard good things about him, so I felt comfortable with going with him."

McKnight was twice suspended at Florida Gulf Coast for violating undisclosed team rules. He missed a three-game preseason trip to the Bahamas in 2012. He was suspended for the first six games of this past season and ended up missing the season's first 12 games.

With a wingspan of more than 7 feet, though, McKnight should be an excellent fit in Tyndall's preferred style of up-and-down, pressing basketball.

It's another step in an impressive recruiting start for Tyndall, who inherited a roster with only seven returning players and a four-player signing class that since has been completely depleted. The Vols signed junior college guard Kevin Punter and guard Detrick Mostella and forward Jabari McGhee from the prep school ranks, but adding size remained a priority.

McKnight will fill that hole.

"Hopefully I can just bring some excitement to the crowd and energy to the team," he said.

Tennessee has another fifth-year transfer on campus in IUPUI guard Ian Chiles, who arrived Monday for his visit. The 6-1 guard from Louisville already visited Auburn and reportedly will visit Maryland after leaving Knoxville.

The Vols also are scheduled to host forward Tariq Owens, a former Ohio signee, later this week.

Former Southern Mississippi signee Willie Carmichael, a 6-7 forward from Florida who was granted his release after Tyndall's departure to Tennessee, will announce his decision today, with the Vols a possibility.

The addition of McKnight leaves Tennessee with four available scholarships for next season -- three if point guard Darius Thompson, who was granted a release from his scholarship last week, elects to return for his sophomore season.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.