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Tennessee Basketball Practice Observations: November 4

Photo by Ryan Schumpert/ RTI

Tennessee basketball hit the practice floor at Pratt Pavilion Thursday for the final practice open to the media before the Vols tip off the 2021-22 season at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday night.

Here are our practice observations.

John Fulkerson stayed working on the side Thursday as he continues to work back from a thumb injury that sidelined him for the Vols’ exhibition game. The super senior did some drill work with his teammates but once contact work began he moved off to the side.

Fulkerson is “questionable” for next week’s season opener.

Jonas Aidoo was back on the court after missing time the last few weeks due to illness. The top-50 recruit wasn’t likely to make a big impact as a freshman even before he missed nearly three weeks with illness. The chance of him earning a legit role is even lower now after missing time, but his upside is just sky high.

The reasons why it was an uphill battle for him to earn playing time were obvious Thursday. He needs to get much stronger in his upper body and is just too weak rebounding and playing inside. However, his talents showed up in a big way.

Aidoo is 6-foot-11 with incredibly long arms and is a great athlete. Even needing to add strength, he finishes somewhat challenging dunks easily and is a solid rim protector. The North Carolina native has really solid touch around the rim and a solid jump shot.

It wasn’t the best day for freshman point guard Zakai Zeigler. The 5-foot-9 guard  didn’t have massive turnover issues but struggled with his shooting and Kennedy Chandler got the best of him on the day — not that there’s much shame in that.

In one play of incredible athleticism, it looked like Zeigler was going to have an easy transition layup and Chandler came from behind, got his arm in front of Zeigler and blocked the shot back towards half court.

Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes has called Santiago Vescovi his team’s most improved player over the offseason. Vescovi does look better on defense, which is a huge plus, but I don’t think his offensive game has made a huge jump forward.

Vescovi has still struggled to finish inside the three-point line both at the rim and in the midrange. The junior guard is in a better situation this season with Chandler running the point guard spot. That should allow Vescovi to get more open looks from three — where he is still excelling — but I wouldn’t expect to see a completely different guy this season.

Vescovi’s ability to limit his turnovers is the number one thing I’m watching for him this season.

Freshman Jahmai Mashack has made strides from the start of preseason practice to now. The athletic guard is still raw on the offensive end but his shot is better than I expected and he seems to be gaining a lot of confidence this preseason.

Mashack’s role could be similar to the one Davonte Gaines was in the last two seasons; coming in as a defensive stopper to provide energy off the bench. Unlike Gaines, I don’t think Mashack is a liability on the offensive end of the floor.

Tennessee players worked in the same groups for much of Thursday’ practice.

Chandler, Vescovi, Josiah Jordan James, Olivier Nkamoua, Uros Plavsic and Victor Bailey Jr. made up the six person first team while Zeigler, Justin Powell, Jahmai Mashack, Quentin Diboundje, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Jonas Aidoo rolled with the second team.

Chandler and Nkamhoua moved to the second team at the end of practice while Zeigler and Huntley-Hatfield moved to the first team.

Barnes said Thursday that his freshmen needed to learn how to play while tired. He made it an emphasis on the court as both Kennedy Chandler and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield had to run sprints horizontally across the court for 60 seconds.

Chandler did the exercise twice and Huntley-Hatfield did it once.

Tennessee did tons of situational work during Thursday’s practice. The Vols worked on offensive plays while inbounding the ball under the basket or on the side with three seconds on the shot clock.

The Vols also did work with a couple different zone defenses. While Mike Schwartz — Tennessee’s “defensive coordinator” — was still giving plenty of defensive instruction, I think this was more practice for the Vols’ offense against the zone.

Tennessee then did end of half work at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice.

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