Barnes hints of bigger, stronger, better Vol outlook

Marvin Westwestwords

Hot potato – handle with care.

Jonas Aidoo’s disappearance from the NCAA tournament led to a very different outlook for the next edition of Tennessee basketball.

For background purposes only, I still like Jonas. He is 6-11 and 241 and a good guy. He earned Southeastern Conference honors. He was most often a co-star of the exciting season just past that produced 27 victories.

Alas, what he did and didn’t do against Texas, Creighton and Purdue in the main event were a poor comparison – four for 12 against the Longhorns, two for eight against Creighton, scoreless with two rebounds against the Boilermakers.

That triggered surprising reactions.

Rick Barnes said he loves Aidoo but turned to the transfer portal for big men with tougher dispositions. Aidoo said to heck with that and transferred to Arkansas.

John Calipari supposedly promised a different way of life, to let Aidoo relocate from under the goal to a kinder, gentler shooting position in the lane or close wing. That’s where he projects when he gets to the NBA.

Aidoo, as good as he often was on defense, will never again have to guard Zach Edey. He demonstrated he couldn’t and didn’t especially like the idea of battling the bully.

Barnes acquired Ohio State center Felix Okpara and Charlotte forward Igor Miličić to replace Aidoo and Tobe Awaka, another surprising departure. Felix is 6-11 and a full-grown man. Igor is 6-10 and a much better shooter than Awaka.

Barnes says Okpara brings a physicality that Tennessee hasn’t had.

Hold it, Coach, wait just a minute. Check the history book. Old Vol Gene Tormohlen knocked so many people around, he was nicknamed Bumper. Howard Bayne was so rugged, some opponents fled.

OK, that was 50 or a hundred years ago, more or less. Barnes is correct that Okpara will add an aspect that has been missing in recent seasons.

“He runs, he’s strong and he impressed me with a really competitive edge that’s going to fit in well with our guys.”

Okpara is from Nigeria via Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga and Link Academy in Branson, Mo., where he was a teammate with current Vol guard Cameron Carr. Vol Cade Phillips came from Link one year earlier.

As a sophomore at Ohio State, Felix led the Buckeyes in rebounding and blocked shots, 83, seventh nationally. He shot about 60 percent but scored only 6.6 points per game.

“I think he’s got some untapped offensive ability,” Barnes said.

For your information only, he was all-Big Ten in academics.

Miličić is from Croatia. His first college stop was Virginia. At Charlotte he averaged 12.8 points in a very slow offense. He is said to be excited about Barnes’ running game. He had 8.5 rebounds. He can play defense. He hit 81.8 of his free throws. He has touch.

You’ll see a shooter with ball-handling skills. I doubt that he is as rugged as Awaka. Few are. I doubt that Igor will commit as many fouls. Few do.

Basketball is a family business. Miličić’s father is coach of a professional team in Italy and Poland’s national team. That Barnes is highly regarded as a coach was a factor in Igor choosing the Vols.

Former Vol Grant Williams of the Charlotte Hornets was another factor. Makes sense, two basketball guys, same city, just happened to talk.

The different outlook for Tennessee includes 6-8 Hofstra wing Darlinstone Dubar, 18.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, 53 percent marksman, 40 percent on long shots. He is from Charlotte, the city, not the school.

Does that sound familiar?

The reconfigured Vols have 6-4 guard Bishop Boswell coming from high school – of all places, Myers Park in Charlotte.

Hooray for six returnees – seniors Zakai Zeigler, Jahmai Mashack and Jordan Gainey and sophomores J.P. Estrella, Carr and Phillips. Estrella made a big jump in the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee needs one more scorer from the portal. Best bet is North Florida guard Chaz Lanier (19.7 points, 51 percent from the field, 44 from three). He has been in the NBA evaluation process. Rivals believe Chaz will join the Vols. He is from Nashville.

Different outlook? No Dalton Knecht. Maybe a drop-off in games won?

“We’ve been blessed to add to our team,” Barnes said. “We think we can be better.”

That doesn’t exactly guarantee more than the Elite Eight but coming from the coach, it is far out on a limb without a parachute, a daring suggestion, maybe to the point of bravery.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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