Since advancing to an NCAA tournament regional semifinal, the Volunteers have endured a coaching change, the implosion of their November signing class and now the potential transfer of two returning players. New Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall already was trying to refortify the Vols’ recruiting class when guard Darius Thompson and swingman A.J. Davis, who just completed their freshman seasons, asked for their releases.
Tyndall remains confident he can put together a quality roster.
“I promise you, in about a month, there’s going to be people saying, ‘Holy cow, they got that guy,’ ‘Holy cow, they filled that spot with him,’ “ Tyndall said. “We just have to let it unfold. There are a lot of guys out there that still haven’t made their mind up. There are guys certainly interested in our program, and we’re going to get our share over the next month.”
Tennessee’s offseason of change began April 15 when former coach Cuonzo Martin left to take over California’s program. Tennessee hired Tyndall away from Southern Mississippi a week later.
All four players to sign with Tennessee in November - guards Larry Austin Jr. and Jordan Cornish plus forwards Phil Cofer and CJ Turman - requested releases from their letters of intent in the days following Tyndall’s arrival. Thompson and Davis made their decisions Monday.
The changes continued Tuesday when Tyndall said that Jareem Dowling, who was announced last week as Tennessee’s new director of player development, had decided instead to stay at Southern Mississippi as a full assistant on new coach Doc Sadler’s staff. Tyndall said he encouraged Sadler to keep Dowling.
Tyndall believes Thompson and Davis “are probably 50-50 right now” on whether to return to Tennessee or continue their careers elsewhere. Tennessee already must replace four of the top five scorers from a team that went 24-13 this past season.
“Both guys at least expressed to me that there was no reluctance about me,” Tyndall said. “They liked me. They liked what we were doing. They loved Tennessee. It was simply a matter of, to be honest with you, seeing what else was out there.”
Tyndall also hopes to keep guard Robert Hubbs III, who is considering whether to seek his release as well. Tyndall said all this uncertainty is the natural byproduct of a coaching change and reflects the admiration Tennessee’s players had for Martin.
“I don’t want to put anything on Coach Martin in a negative light,” Tyndall said. “I just think these kids are very loyal to Coach Martin, which to be honest with you, I love. I respect that. I have no problem with that. I respect Coach Martin.”
Tyndall has signed forward Jabari McGhee and junior-college guard Kevin Punter to rebuild Tennessee’s recruiting class. Thompson is Tennessee’s only pure point guard on scholarship, so the Vols now must upgrade that position. Tyndall says he plans to add one point guard if Thompson stays and may sign two point guards if Thompson leaves.
Tyndall remains upbeat, perhaps because he’s been in similar situations before. In his first year at Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles returned only four players from a team that had reached the NCAA tournament a year earlier. Tyndall led that inexperienced group to a 27-10 record.
“Everyone was worried, everyone was concerned and rightfully so,” Tyndall said. “I was worried and concerned, shoot. But at the end of the day, I have a great deal of confidence in my staff. I have a great deal of confidence that we’ve done this on two other occasions (at Southern Mississippi and Morehead State), and we’re going to be fine.”