Tennessee basketball could receive much-needed help in its next game against LSU as conference play begins.
Following the Vols’ 20-point loss to Wisconsin at home over the weekend — their third loss in four games — head coach Rick Barnes stated that his basketball team needed better guard play if they were going to turn things around.
The loss to the Badgers was Tennessee’s first game without Lamonte Turner. The senior point guard had announced following UT’s prior game against Jacksonville State that he had decided to have season-ending shoulder surgery. Against the Badgers without Turner, Tennessee’s perimeter players shot just 5-of-27 from the field.
Saturday’s loss also happened to be the first game newly-signed point guard Santiago Vescovi was in attendance for. Vescovi had just arrived in Knoxville from Uruguay after being cleared academically to enroll early.
With Tennessee needing help at the guard position — specifically at point guard — the four-star point guard signee will likely be thrown into the fire in Tennessee’s SEC-opener on Saturday.
“Naturally he’s a point guard,” Barnes said Monday. “He’s able to run a team. Now has he done it at this level? No. That’s why we brought him here, because we think he’s capable of doing that.”
Barnes doesn’t have set expectations for Vescovi’s first game, but this week will be crucial to getting him ready to play. Barnes doesn’t have one particular thing he’s looking for from his new point guard in order for him to receive significant playing time, either.
“Today (Monday) will be his first practice,” Barnes said. “I just think it’s not just what we do offensively, it’s defensively. I don’t think there is any question he will help us.
“He’s competitive. He’s been around. He has played some high-level teams, obviously, internationally. I don’t know if there’s any one thing I would tell you he has to do. I just think it’s him getting a feel for what we are doing.”
Tennessee’s current players are chipping in nearly as much as the coaches in order to get Vescovi caught up to speed. He’s already spent time with the scout team in order to begin learning the offense. When he hit the practice court on Monday for the first time as a Vol, he was treated like everybody else by the coaching staff.
“He’s gone in with the scout team mostly and done the things that he has wanted to do there, but again, starting with our coaching staff, he’ll be treated like everybody else,” Barnes explained. “We’ll continue with all the guys and coaches we have to help him as much as we can.”
Vescovi still needs to pass a physical and gain eligibility by the NCAA before he can play. The NCAA’s eligibility center opens on Jan. 2, and Tennessee doesn’t expect any issues on him becoming eligible in time for Saturday’s noon tip-off with LSU at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Without Turner, the Vols have a void for a natural ball handler on offense and lack a strong on-ball defender at the point guard spot. Vescovi will try and fill those holes as much as he can.