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We answer your best questions about Tennessee athletics and anything else in our weekly mailbag, Insider Mailing.
“How important is Grant Williams and Jordan Bone returning to the long term sustainability of success for the Tennessee basketball program?” – Brian
Nathanael: I wouldn’t say it’s absolutely vital, but I think it’s pretty important. If neither of those guys return for next season, then that’ll be a big blow. Even if that happens, though, I fully expect next year’s team to make it to the NCAA Tournament still. If one or both of them return, I fully expect the team to compete for the SEC title again. Next year’s team isn’t going to see some massive drop-off if at least one of those guys returns. And with the way Barnes and his staff are recruiting now, I don’t think the men’s program is going to have to “rebuild” in the near future.
Ben: It’s important because if those two don’t return, the Vols will be fairly young next season. If Grant Williams and Jordan Bone do return, Rick Barnes will have four seniors in Williams, Bone, Jordan Bowden, and Lamonte Turner. Three senior guards and a two-time SEC Player of the Year is quite the nucleus of a team. If Williams and Bone don’t return, Tennessee will rely heavily on Turner, Bowden, Yves Pons, John Fulkerson, Derrick Walker, Jalen Johnson, and DJ Burns. That’s still a tournament team, but the potential with Williams and Bone also in the fold is much greater.
“Should Grant be Natl POY over Zion?” – @tjvol49
Nathanael: No, he shouldn’t. I think Grant Williams is a living legend at UT, but Zion absolutely deserves the Player of the Year award. All you need to do is look at how Duke played with and without Zion this season.
Ben: No, Zion Williamson is the best player in college basketball and it’s not even close.
“Floor and ceiling for Josiah James & DJ Burns next season? Instant starters?” – Cole
Nathanael: Both could certainly be instant starters, but I’d be a little hesitant to say that for both. UT really wants James as a point guard, and if Jordan Bone returns for next season, he’s not starting there. He could start as a two-guard, but I think Jordan Bowden or Lamonte Turner would get the nod there. Even in a three-guard lineup, James is still likely coming off the bench. Burns has a good shot of starting and taking most of the minutes Kyle Alexander leaves behind, but I also wouldn’t count out John Fulkerson and Derrick Walker getting the nod there.
Ben: Contingent on if Jordan Bone and Grant Williams return. Should the two declare for the draft, I do believe Josiah James and DJ Burns will be relied on to play important minutes. But if Bone and Williams stay, James and Buns can sit behind the veterans for a season and learn. Both will receive playing time next season, but how important those minutes are depend on what Bone and Williams do.
“Should Holly be fired regardless of how the team plays in the tourney?” – @jnichols5402
Nathanael: I think that will be interesting to see. If the Lady Vols go on a run and make it to the Elite Eight, for example, then that puts UT in a weird spot. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though, so I think it’ll end up being a fairly easy decision to make.
Ben: Quite simply, yes.
“What’s up with Darrin Kirkland’s knee? Which young LB’s step up if he’s a no go?” – Andrew
Nathanael: I’m still in “wait and see” mode on Kirkland, but his knee has been a concern for a while and kept him from being a contributor a lot last season. I’d say the most likely young guy to step up would be Quavaris Crouch. Right now, Daniel Bituli and Will Ignont are getting the bulk of the first team reps at inside linebacker, and Shanon Reid is right there with them. But I think Crouch’s ceiling is so high that he’ll see the field regardless.
Ben: For whatever reason, Kirkland’s knee just can’t get right. It seems as if prior procedures haven’t gone according to plan and as a result, the injury is lingering. If the veteran can’t go, all eyes will be on Quavaris Crouch to play important snaps. As Nathanael said, Daniel Bituli and Will Ignont are receiving the bulk of the reps. I believe both upperclassmen are capable of producing.
“It seems like the spring football practice has been quiet, with basketball and all. What have I missed or what has been the 2 biggest surprises so far?” – Sam
Nathanael: You’ve really not missed a ton, to be honest, Sam. They’ve only been in full pads for a handful of practices, and now UT is on spring break, so there aren’t any practices going on. The biggest things I’ve taken away are seeing how Jim Chaney and Tee Martin have seamlessly integrated themselves into the staff already, and some of the young guys have looked solid for first-year players in their first collegiate practices. But there’s not a lot going on just yet.
Ben: It’s been quiet because Tennessee basketball has been loud. That and unlike Butch Jones’ tenure, there isn’t a lot of unnecessary drama. As a result, there isn’t a whole lot being talked about it outside of the complex. The biggest observation for me has been two things: The fact that Jeremy Pruitt is allowing Jim Chaney to be the head coach of the offense and that Jarrett Guarantano seems to haven taken a positive step forward. Not only as a quarterback, but as a leader.
“Most of our teams still use Smokey gray uniforms. Is there hope we can redesign them for Football?” – Chris
Nathanael: I would be very surprised if the football team ever used Smokey Gray under Jeremy Pruitt. The men’s basketball team hasn’t used it under Rick Barnes in a couple seasons, but they did use a really awesome throwback redesign that I and most fans loved. I’d be very interested to see the football team use a throwback redesign of something in the 70’s or 80’s, though.
Ben: No. Jeremy Pruitt and Phillip Fulmer are as much of a traditionalist as they come. I would be stunned if the football team wears them any time soon. Fulmer loves the orange and white. Pruitt probably couldn’t care less what color Tennessee wears.