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Tennessee Basketball Practice Observations: October 26

Photo by Ryan Schumpert/ RTI

Following media day, the Tennessee basketball team hit the court at Pratt Pavilion for practice with the regular season just 14 days away.

Tennessee allowed the media to view the entirety of Tuesday’s practice. Here are our practice observations.

While John Fulkerson was not a full participant at practice while he battles through a broken thumb, the Preseason Coaches First Team All-SEC selection was doing conditioning work on the side and was working on post moves and shooting the ball without much discomfort.

Rick Barnes said Tuesday that he expects Fulkerson to be available for the season opener against UT-Martin in two weeks. 

Fulkerson was very active coaching his younger teammates, giving hands on help to freshmen Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Zakai Zeigler

Josiah Jordan James also didn’t participate in Tuesday’s practice. Tennessee’s coaches gave junior wing a day off after banging his leg yesterday. A Tennessee spokesperson told RTI that James’ injury wasn’t serious and that if the first game was tomorrow that he’d be available.

Jonas Aidoo didn’t participate in Tuesday’s practice. The four-star freshman has been sidelined by sickness for the past two weeks.

Tennessee did extensive work on its full court man-to-man defense Tuesday. The Vols were working on a bunch of different wrinkles with it, having the defender guarding the inbounder trap on the entry pass, having him play deep and a number of other options. 

Tennessee wasn’t forcing enough turnovers for assistant coach Mike Schwartz— who Rick Barnes has called his “defensive coordinator”— liking. 

On the other hand, that means Tennessee’s ball handlers were doing a good job of taking care of the basketball. That’s an area where the Vols should be better this season with more true point guards on the roster.

In particular, Zakai Zeigler did a nice job of handling ball pressure throughout practice. I think Tennessee signing Zeigler may end up being one of the best things that could have happened for Kennedy Chandler.

Zeigler competes hard with him every time out and doesn’t make anything easy for him. At media day Tuesday, Chandler told RTI that Zeigler is the first player he’s ever played with that’s as fast as him. The reps and lessons he learns in practice about how to defend and score against a quick guard will inevitably help him when the season comes around. No one else on Tennessee’s roster can give Chandler that experience.

Today was the first practice the media has been able to watch where the teams weren’t changing consistently. 

It wasn’t as simple as one team being starters and one team being back ups, but there did seem to be a divide between players expected to play a lot and young players still growing in Tennessee’s system.

Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi, Victor Bailey Jr, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic and Justin Powell were working together while Zeigler, Jahmai Mashack, Quentin Diboundje, Huntley-Hatfield and Handje Tamba worked together.

Speaking of Mashack, the freshman earned the ire of Barnes frequently Tuesday and found himself spending plenty of time on the VersaClimber.

Olivier Nkamhoua continues to impress and I don’t think he’s behind any of Tennessee’s big men right now— maybe with the exception of Fulkerson.

All the things we’ve written about in past practice reports proved true again Tuesday. The junior power forward looks more comfortable with the ball in his hands and like he always knows what to do in the past. For a player that’s talent has been clear in the past but it just sometimes hasn’t clicked, that’s important.

More than anything, Nkamhoua impressed me with his defense. The Finland native had a pair of impressive blocks— one on Huntley-Hatfield and another on Diboundje, and a nice steal when Zeigler tried to split a ball screen.

I expect Nkamhoua to be in the Vols’ starting lineup when they open up the season against UT-Martin in 14 days.

Tennessee basketball legend Chris Lofton was at Pratt Pavilion Tuesday to take in the Vols’ practice.

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