As I recall, it was Sgt. Joe Friday who gained TV Dragnet fame with one line, ‘‘Just the facts, ma’am.’’
That’s what you’ll find here, just the facts, no hidden agenda, no complaint about Rick Barnes’ $5.4 million salary plus bonuses or his NCAA tournament record, just the short story of what might have been, a season that fell short, and what the future could be.
Past: As Tennessee struggled to finish with Ziggy bopping around on his scooter and the Vols trying to play without a genuine point guard, I wondered what happened to the development of B.J. Edwards.
A year ago, he was a Knoxville prep star, Catholic High, 6-3 and 188, high potential we believed. He was ranked as the nation’s No. 10 point guard.
I closed my eyes and tried to see him, in a year or two, playing a key role on a winning team. Considering the population, there have been very few from Knox County – Ron Widby, Jimmy England, Bill Justus. Bert Bertelkamp, Jordan Bowden, Doug Roth and maybe somebody I have forgotten.
“B.J. is a complete guard who can impact the game in multiple ways,” said Barnes on signing day. “He plays with a lot of confidence and great pace. He also defends at a high level, which is an attribute we value. He’s always been an efficient scorer, but he also makes his teammates better as a distributor.
“We think B.J. has a chance to blossom into one of the best all-around guards in the SEC … keeping him here in Knoxville has been a priority for us.”
He played a few minutes now and then. When the Vols were short-handed because of injuries, especially after Zakai Zeigler was lost, I thought Edwards might be of more help.
Future: Tennessee is sorting through point guard prospects in the transfer portal. It has already lost one it wanted.
I wonder about the five senior Volunteers and whether one or more of the four with a bonus year of Covid eligibility might choose to return. It could come down to NIL money and the gamble of the NBA draft.
Official Tennessee returnees figure to be Jonas Aidoo, Jahmai Mashack, Tobe Awaka, maybe Julian Phillips and other remnants of its roster plus redshirt guard DJ Jefferson, 6-5, from Dallas and Minnesota Prep Academy.
There are four signees – Freddie Dilione, 6-4, Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, already enrolled; 6-11 four-star J.P. Estrella of Brewster Academy in Maine; four-star 6-4 Cameron Carr of Link Academy and three-star Cade Phillips of Jacksonville School.
Carr’s dad played in the NBA.
The season past ended as a 25-11 disappointment (Florida Atlantic will be forever grateful for the endorsement to the basketball world).
Santiago Vescovi said “We fought through everything we could.”
He can recite injury timelines but doesn’t look for excuses. He remembers each up and down, dramatic victories over Kansas, Texas, Alabama and Duke, embarrassing losses to Colorado and Florida, unlucky buzzer-beaters, of course the close call in the NCAA tournament against Louisiana, the end against the Owls.
Santi is proud of how the Vols hung together, never splintered, never pointed fingers.
“I’m really proud of this team and the way we fought.”
Yes, he is aware there were times the Vols needed to play better. The last game was a haunting example.
Vescovi is a tough guy, mentally and physically, but he doesn’t try to hide the truth.
“Losing Z was one of the main things for sure. Towards the end, where it’s the most basketball you’ve got to be playing, it definitely hit us. I think a lot of guys did a great job stepping up. Losing Zakai was definitely one of the things we had to fight through.”
Olivier Nkamhoua had very interesting post-season observations.
“I just want people to know we played our hearts out. We tried to play our brand of basketball. Regardless of what was going on, who was in, who was out, what games we had coming up, we stuck together.”
For a minute, he sounded like a coach: “Never get caught flat-footed. Learn from mistakes. Come back stronger. Put in your work. You have to put in your work. It’s basketball. It’s anybody’s game. If you come out a step slow, you might lose.”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].