RTI contributor Robert Hughes is the author of this article
Since the departure of Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams, Kyle Alexander, and Jordan Bone, the narrative surrounding men’s basketball at the University of Tennessee has remained the same, and has largely revolved around two points:
- Rick Barnes and his staff are recruiting at the highest level, as evidenced by the commitments of five-star prospect Keon Johnson and four-star prospect Corey Walker for the class of 2020 (not to mention the signing of five-star Josiah-Jordan James in this year’s class). Can they continue to secure the commitments of more high-profile players like Paolo Banchero and Kennedy Chandler in the future?
- Who will step up to fill the four-person, NBA-sized void this season?
If Barnes’ comments last week were any indication, the answer to the latter is found in a duo of senior guards.
Before Tennessee’s first preseason practice 2019, Barnes addressed the growth of senior guards Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden and whether or not the senior combo have progressed as leaders.
“They have done that,” Barnes explained. “We talked about that when the [2018-2019] season was over with. Every year, roles change.”
Thankfully for Barnes and the Tennessee basketball team, Bowden and Turner are not only used to changing roles—they’re used to thriving in them.
Following a five-game opening stretch to the 2018-2019 season in which he shot 11-of-29 and scored just 6.8 points per game, sharpshooter Jordan Bowden was benched in favor of Yves Pons. Bowden responded in his new role and finished with a .459 shooting percentage and 10.6 points per game for the season.
On the other hand, Lamonte Turner missed nine games due to a shoulder injury, and, in his own words, “played all season in pain.” Even so, Turner averaged 10.9 points per game and provided clutch shots when the Volunteers needed them most, including the go-ahead three-pointer against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament with 29 seconds remaining in the game.
“Lamonte [Turner] has always, in his own, subtle way, has been a guy that people have been willing to follow because of his competitiveness,” Barnes said.
Tennessee’s head coach noted that his two senior guards, while showing flashes of fire in the past, have now become consistent staples of leadership in practice, something that Barnes iterated is critical for this year’s team.
“[Bowden] has become more vocal with it,” Barnes said of Bowden’s leadership. “One way he leads, he is going to come up and bring it every day. Both of those guys (Bowden and Turner) are really good at that. They play really hard, and they practice really hard. They really prepare themselves the way you want.
“They lead by example, but they do need to be—and they are more vocal—than they have been.”
In the offseason, Turner underwent an arthroscopic procedure to address his shoulder issues. This season, Turner and Bowden will have to prove whether or not those shoulders are prepared to carry the weight of a new role