Tennessee basketball point guard Kennedy Chandler is back in Knoxville after earning a gold medal at the FIBA World Cup with U19 Team USA of college freshmen and sophomores. Chandler is looking to build chemistry on a Vols team full of new faces.
Tennessee lost four players to the transfer portal and three players to the NBA Draft this offseason. Despite the massive turnaround, Tennessee’s roster is full of talent thanks to the nation’s No. 3 signing class. The Vols brought in five prep recruits and Auburn transfer Justin Powell to partner with major returning contributors Santiago Vescovi, Victor Bailey, John Fulkerson and Josiah Jordan James.
Chandler, a top-10 recruit and the nation’s No. 1 point guard, is looking to take the team chemistry lessons he learned from playing with Team USA to a young Vol basketball team.
“With Team USA our chemistry wasn’t good at all at first,” Chandler said. “We lost to Team Australia. … Second scrimmage we beat Spain by one so coming in with new players like here you have to find the chemistry. I just built the chemistry up and tried to find a way to get everyone involved.”
Rick Barnes and his staff have gotten a full offseason with players on campus and no COVID-19 limitations that were detrimental to player development last season. However, Tennessee’s team still has limited time fully together.
Besides Chandler, Vescovi played three games of Olympic qualifying with the Uruguayan national team, Olivier Nkamhoua played in three international games with Finland and incoming freshman Jahmai Mashack didn’t arrive in Knoxville until June 23 after winning a state championship for Etiwanda High School in California.
While Tennessee hasn’t had all its players on campus the whole summer, everyone is in Knoxville now.
Now with his teammates, Chandler provides Tennessee with a strong offense creating point guard— something the Vols have desperately been missing since Jordan Bone left for the NBA following the 2019 season.
Coming off the bench for Team USA, Chandler averaged 7.7 points, 3.4 assista and 2.9 rebounds a game. The Memphis native has a lightning quick first step and long range on his jumpshot. What the freshman prides himself most on, however, is his ability to create open looks for his teammates.
— USABJNT (@usabjnt) July 9, 2021
“For the USA I came off the bench and my first mindset was to find my open teammates,” Chandler said. “That’s the mindset I have when I’m starting too. I want to find my teammates. I love getting everyone involved and that’s what builds the chemistry and gets everyone going. Not worried about who’s scoring. It builds the bond. If I can get in the paint and score or get my shot open that’s what I do but first I want to get my teammates open.”
With solid shot up shooters with limited creating abilities— Bailey and Vescovi— and big men who can score around the rim— Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Fulkerson— Chandler hopes to spearhead an offense with major improvements.
Despite being a freshman, Chandler wants to be a leader on a talented Tennessee team. That role, as well as being a point guard for Barnes, is a tough task for a young player. However, Chandler appears to understand and be ready for the task.
“Coming in as a freshman, I’m still the point guard,” Chandler said. “My goal, even though I’m a freshman I want to be a leader and help my teammates and just show them the way.”
The 6-foot-1, 185 pound point guard admits that the process of developing his leadership has been eye opening, but the former five-star recruit is learning from a pair of his teammates.
“They’re great leaders,” Chandler said of James and Fulkerson. “At first, when I got here I thought I was an okay leader but just the way they lead I feel like I’m not there yet, but I know I’m going to get there eventually.”
Now with the whole team together in Knoxville, Tennessee marches forward towards the 2021-22 season that is set with a plethora of challenges both in and out of conference play.
The Vols open up their anticipated season on Nov. 9 against UT-Martin.