Vols’ Bench to be Bigger Focus this Season

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    Photo by Nathanael Rutherford/RTI

    The starting five for Tennessee’s men’s basketball team remains the same as last year. Jordan Bone will be the starting point guard and will have Jordan Bowden starting alongside him at the two-guard spot, Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams will man the forward positions, and Kyle Alexander will start at center.

    But what about the Vols’ bench players?

    Last season, Tennessee rotated in two main guards off the bench and mostly utilized just one reserve forward till the last month of the season. As good as the Vols’ starters were last year, they didn’t have a ton of developed and proven depth.

    Head coach Rick Barnes is hoping that will change this season.

    “I think the rotation with where we are right now, we’re probably gonna look at 10 guys,” Barnes said in his preseason press conference. “Pretty much what we did in our scrimmage this past Saturday. You go into a game with an idea of what you think you want to do, but then fouls and the way the game plays out can change some of that. We’ll try to figure these things out.”

    The five players off the bench for Tennessee this season will likely be reigning Co-SEC Sixth Man of the year Lamonte Turner, Jalen Johnson, Yves Pons, Derrick Walker, and John Fulkerson. But only Turner of that group last season averaged more than 10 minutes per game.

    According to Barnes, he and his staff don’t look at Turner as a backup. They view him as a starter along with both Bone and Bowden at the guard positions, and he was used as the team’s spark plug last year. Turner didn’t start a single game for the Vols last season, but he averaged the fourth-most minutes on the team and actually played more minutes than staring point guard Jordan Bone.

    But aside from Turner, the Vols didn’t get to utilize a ton of their bench for long stretches last season.

    Last year, Tennessee had just seven players average over 10 minutes played per game. And one of those players, James Daniel III, is no longer on the roster.

    For comparison, Alabama had 11 players average double-digit minutes per game last season, and both Kentucky and Auburn had nine players play 10 or minute minutes per game on average.

    Barnes wants to see his bench players earn more playing time and spell his starters more often.

    “They key will be how we blend those guys in with the guys who are playing the bulk of the minutes,” Barnes said of his bench players. “We don’t want those guys (the starters) having to play 30, 35 minutes. So it’s important those guys realize how valuable those minutes are.

    “Those guys are really important, and they need to give us quality minutes.”

    With Daniel off the roster this year, Tennessee really only has Lamonte Turner as a backup point guard to Jordan Bone. But Barnes isn’t too worried about having a dearth of ball handlers on the roster.

    “We got that in Jordan Bowden. Grant Williams can do it,” Barnes said when asked about the lack of ball handlers on the team. “We’re going to use him in that area some too. I’m not concerned about that, I’m really not.”

    John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker figure to be the taller forwards off the bench while Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons can be used as hybrid forward/guards. Turner will once again be the spark plug guard off the bench. Zach Kent will factor into the rotation at forward/center once he recovers from his minor knee ailment, and freshman D.J. Burns will see some time at center but likely won’t be called upon to do a great deal his first season with Tennessee.

    The Vols host Tusculum for an exhibition game Wednesday night then tip off the 2018-19 season when they play Lenoir-Rhyne on Tuesday, November 6th in Thompson-Boling Arena.



    Nathanael Rutherford
    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.