After Tennessee’s 76-41 victory over Alabama State on Wednesday night, the university announced that redshirt sophomore Zach Kent will be “stepping away” from the program indefinitely. While Kent is still enrolled in school and his decision wasn’t tied to any disciplinary reasons, Kent’s departure seems more likely to be permanent than not.
So, where does this leave the Vols’ roster in men’s basketball?
Kent’s on-court impact was minimal both this season and in his career. The 6-foot-11, 235-pound forward from Delaware signed with Tennessee in the 2017 class after playing his senior season at Blair Academy in New Jersey. Kent played in two games as a freshman in the 2017-18 season, scoring four points and grabbing two rebounds against Presbyterian and snagging an offensive board against High Point. Kent redshirted that season. Last year, Kent underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his knee in October and sat out the entire season.
To start this year, Kent had played in two games, playing four minutes against UNC Asheville and logging six minutes against Murray State, scoring three points and grabbing two rebounds against the Racers.In total, Kent has played in four games as a Vol, scoring seven points and totaling five rebounds in 23 minutes of action.
Replacing Kent’s production on the court won’t be a problem, but there are greater implications tied to his departure.
With Kent’s absence, Tennessee has just nine scholarship players currently eligible to play this season. The Vols have two scholarship seniors (Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner), three scholarship juniors (John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Jalen Johnson) and four freshmen (Josiah-Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua, Davonte Gaines, Drew Pember).
Right now, Arizona State transfer Uros Plavsic is still ineligible to play this season as he waits to hear back from the NCAA on a last-ditch appeal. Assuming his appeal is denied just like his original waiver and first appeal, then Tennessee will have to rely on just nine scholarship players for the foreseeable future. Oregon transfer Victory Bailey Jr. is sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules, so he’s not an option for this year.
Granted, Kent’s decision to leave is “indefinite,” which means he could return to the team at some point. But it appears to be a safer bet that he won’t at this point.
While Kent didn’t play a great deal, his departure does take another post player off the Vols’ roster. Tennessee’s frontcourt already lacked depth even with Kent on the roster, but now UT is left with two true post players (Fulkerson and Nkamhoua), a stretch-four (Pember), and an undersized four (Yves Pons).
If Plavsic’s appeal is denied, Tennessee will only have three scholarship players who measure in over 6-foot-7, and two of those are true freshmen. One of them — Drew Pember — is still far too skinny to hold up in the paint once the Vols start SEC play. Pember is 6-foot-9, but he barely weighs 200 pounds. Nkamhoua (6-8, 224 pounds) and Fulkerson (6-9, 215 pounds) are built more like SEC post players.
Tennessee was already using more small-ball lineups to start this season, but now that tactic will be used even more frequently since there won’t really be another option.
Kent wasn’t earning very many minutes, so the Vols’ gameplan on the court won’t shift dramatically. But what about the more long-term impact of Kent’s decision?
Should the redshirt sophomore decide to permanently leave Tennessee’s men’s basketball program, that frees up a scholarship for the Vols to use. Previously, Tennessee had filled up their allotment of scholarships when they signed three prospects in the 2020 class during the fall signing period last week.
Now, however, Tennessee could have another scholarship to use in the 2020 cycle or another future recruiting cycle.
One possible option to immediately take that open scholarship would be 2020 point guard Santiago Vescovi. The international prospect from Uruguay has been picking up more and more high-major interest lately, and he just took an official visit to see the Vols during Wednesday’s game. Though Vescovi is just now rated as a three-star in the 247Sports Composite rankings, Evan Daniels of 247Sports said earlier this month that Vescovi is “tracking as a four-star and top 100 level recruit” once he’s evaluated by the international analysts at 247Sports.
At the NBA G-League International Challenge in Uruguay, Vescovi averaged 12.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, three assists, and 1.5 steals in four games. He made seven of his 13 three-pointers and went up against teams with former NBA players such as Greg Monroe, Paul Zipser, and Josh Huestis.
There’s talk that Vescovi could do what Jarnell Stokes did back in 2011 and enroll at his school of choice in time for the spring semester. That would mean Vescovi would be able to join the Vols in time for SEC play if that’s the route he ends up taking.
Tennessee’s roster is subject to change in any number of ways over the next couple months. Kent could end up coming back, Plavsic could get his appeal accepted or denied, or Vescovi could sign with the Vols and either enroll mid-year or end up waiting till next season.
Whatever happens, the Vols appear to have several options, but most of them are out of their control.