First in a series
It’s no surprise which of their four newcomers Tennessee basketball coaches think is the most ready to contribute.
Junior college transfer D’Montre Edwards definitely passes the sight test. The 6-foot-6 Edwards is a bit sturdier than incoming freshmen Derek Reese and Armani Moore. At 210 pounds, he’s no Charles Barkley, but it’s obvious Edwards has some strength training in his background. In two seasons at Brevard (Fla.) Community College, he averaged better than seven rebounds, a sign he’s not afraid to mix it up in the paint.
Edwards has also played or practiced against future Division I players in the tough Florida junior college system, including three of his Brevard teammates who signed scholarships after last season.
Yes, Edwards is as prepared as any of the Vols’ rookies – that’s counting redshirt freshman Quinton Chievous – but there’s still going to be a learning curve.
Edwards found that out when he had to tangle with senior forward Kenny Hall in a recent practice session as Tennessee prepared for its 10-day trip to Italy.
“I had to guard him on a switch on a screen,” Edwards said, laughing at the recollection. “I thought I had him, but he’s bigger than he looks. He did a move and he got to the rim, like very quickly.”
Edwards will have to get used to facing athletes like Hall in the SEC. But Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin thinks Edwards will hold his own, calling him “battle tested.” Versatility is another key to Edwards’ game, as assistant coach Kent Williams is quick to point out.
“We feel like he can be pretty productive for us inside and outside,” Williams said. “There’s not one thing he’s really great at, but he’s good in a lot of areas. Being a junior, and having some experience, he may be able to step right in and pick up where Cam (Tatum, the Vols’ only departing starter) left off.”
Some observers have even compared Edwards to former Vol Scotty Hopson, which could be good and bad. When Hopson, who was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star recruit, chose to, he could dominate games. But just as often he disappeared. Edwards doesn’t have to dominate, but if were able to average 10 points and five boards and shoot 35-40 percent from behind the arc, the Vol coaches couldn’t complain.
Slam magazine saw some Hopson-like tendencies – the good tendencies, at least –in Edwards when it scouted him in the summer of 2011.
“Edwards has a smooth game and can score in a variety of ways,” wrote Brad Winton, Slam’s JUCO scouting guru. “He has a solid mid-range game and can get to the rim and finish. Edwards is also a good defender who has a high basketball IQ.”
Edwards gained another advantage during his two years at Brevard, which ran a motion offense similar to the one favored by Martin.
“Our positions were interchangeable,” Edwards said. “The two, three and four spots were spread out. It was a lot of ball screens and moving around. But this offense moves more.”
Edwards’ favorite position is the three, but he’ll play both forward spots for the Vols. “If he asks me to play the four, yes, I’ll play the four,” Edwards said.
Martin encourages his power forwards to shoot the three, and regardless of what position Edwards plays, his perimeter skills will be important to a team that wasn’t a consistent 3-point threat a year ago. At Brevard, he shot 48 percent from the field and a solid 37 percent from 3.
“I think I can make (the 3) at this level,” Edwards said. “I’m just going to be working on my craft (in Italy and the offseason), gaining more confidence, getting in the gym day in, day out and getting up shots.”
Nooga.com will profile Tennessee’s newcomers in a four-part series that will appear during the Vols’ trip to Italy. Next: Quinton Chievous.