Based on the first few days of practice, here are three Tennessee basketball players to watch closely as they vie for playing time in coach Cuonzo Martin’s rotation.
• Josh Richardson (6-6, 186-pound sophomore). The word is that if the season started today, Richardson might be in the starting lineup at the three spot, replacing departed senior Cameron Tatum.
Why? He’s probably the Vols’ best on-ball defender. He’s got a perfect build for playing defense the way Martin demands it be played. With his long arms and athleticism, he’s capable of defending four positions, a huge key when Tennessee switches on ball screens.
If defense were all Richardson had to offer, he’d more than justify his scholarship. But the word is he’s become a much-improved offensive player. His perimeter shooting has improved—and he was already capable of making midrange jumpers—and he’s getting to the rim with authority.
Kenny Hall (6-9 230-pound senior). We already know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this the guy who left the Vols in a lurch last year by getting suspended for the stretch run in February and March, then worked his way back onto the team, then got benched for a game during Tennessee’s exhibition tour of Italy for non hustle?
Same dude. Only Hall—especially with fellow senior and All-SEC player Jeronne Maymon sitting out practice because the coaching staff wants to make sure his surgically repaired knees heal properly—is battling in practice, playing with a sense of urgency.
Hall has always had skills the Vols can use. He’s long and athletic, blocks shots, runs the floor, finishes on the break, can make a medium-range face-up jumper … so what’s not to like? Apparently focus, work ethic, maturity level … important stuff like that. But Hall has seemingly gotten his act together for his last go-round as a college player and he’s even giving Jarnell Stokes some serious comp in practice.
In August, before the Vols left for Italy, Hall made an impression on junior college transfer D’Montre Edwards.
“I had to guard him on a switch on a screen,” Edwards said. “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.”
Quinton Chievous (6-5, 201-pound redshirt freshman). Question: How does a 6-5 four-man fit into a post rotation that already includes two All-SEC types (Maymon and Stokes), the aforementioned Hall and an up-and-comer in Yemi Makanjuola? Answer: By being tough, physical and having a knack for always being around the ball.
Those are the qualities Chievous, the son of former NBA first-round draft pick Derrick Chievous, has displayed in practice so far.
Some observers who should know have gone so far as to say Chievous might be the Vols’ most consistent perimeter threat. That doesn’t mean 3-point threat, but rather someone who can consistently make 12- to 18-footers. Chievous can score in plenty of other ways, too. He uses his body like a battering ram and is a great garbage-basket maker because he loves to compete for offensive rebounds.
Chievous may not play a ton given the number of talented post players ahead of him. Or he may start knocking down a bunch of threes, prove he can guard quick players and earn some minutes at the two or three. But when he gets on the floor, write this down, Chievous will make his presence known. Pity the fool that tries to draw a charge on him.