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Meet Jonas Aidoo: Tennessee’s Next Big Thing

Jonas Aidoo, a four-star recruit from North Carolina, was one of the final additions to Tennessee’s 2021 class. And until February, Aidoo only had 13 minutes on the court in a Tennessee uniform. But during Tennessee’s win against No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday, Aidoo showed why he may just be the Vols’ biggest x-factor in the final stretch of the season.

But let’s back up a bit first.

Aidoo was originally a Marquette commit in the spring of 2021. However, after changes to the Golden Eagles’ staff, Aidoo announced his decommitment that March.

A month later, on April 12, former Marquette associate head coach Justin Gainey joined the Tennessee staff as an assistant coach. Gainey’s addition to Tennessee was vital in the recruitment of Aidoo, the former top-ranked player in the state of North Carolina. With an established relationship already built, Gainey was able to secure a Tennessee commitment from Aidoo just two days after being brought onto the staff on April 14.

Tennessee’s 2021-2022 season has been full of surprises already. For instance, just take the rise from freshman superstar Zakai Zeigler, the season-ending injury to Olivier Nkamhoua, or the elevated play of Uros Plavsic during conference games. But after what Tennessee did on the court on Tuesday, it looks like there might be one more surprise brewing.

During Tennessee’s 13-point win over No. 4 Kentucky, Aidoo had five points on two-of-three shooting, seven rebounds, and three blocks in 18 minutes. When he was on the court, Aidoo was tasked with guarding the paint, which was usually occupied by the nation’s leading rebounder Oscar Tshiewbe. And surprisingly enough, Aidoo more than held his own. In fact, he made Kentucky’s life considerably tougher. The freshman center was going toe-to-toe with Tshiewbe and gave Tennessee positioning in the paint that was more than advantageous.

“I don’t know if I could say enough about Jonas Aidoo,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said after the game. “He made his presence felt. He’s a guy that we knew that, once he could get his feet to where we needed it to be, we watched him in practice and when he was able to go and how he affects us. I thought, again, he made his presence felt tonight.”

After Nkamhoua’s injury just a few short weeks ago, Tennessee was given a big problem to solve. Barnes was quick to say though that the player that would replace Nkamhoua’s minutes would earn his spot through his defensive play.

“You’re going to have to earn it,” Barnes said after the game. “And [Aidoo] has earned his chance to be out there.”

Jonas Aidoo
Tennessee C Jonas Aidoo. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.
Tennessee Postgame: Vols Make ‘Statement’ With Complete Win Over Kentucky

In the Vols’ first 21 games of the season, Aidoo was hardly seen, only collecting 13 minutes in 5 games. However, just because he wasn’t seen on the court, doesn’t mean the work wasn’t being put in. Aidoo had a late start on the year but has been working hard during practice to get himself to a point where he can be a contributor. His sheer size, strength, and length already had him in a good position, but Aidoo needed time to catch up to the speed of the game.

“Early in the year, as you guys know, he missed a lot of preseason,” Barnes said about Aidoo. “In the last, two-and-a-half, maybe three weeks, you could just feel that it was going to click for him.”

Aidoo has found more and more minutes in the month of February, but on Tuesday, Aidoo found a groove.

“It’s just staying ready,” Aidoo said about what his mindset has been these past two weeks. “You never know what could happen. With [Olivier] going down, I just had the next-man-up mentality, so I was just ready to step up.”

The freshman center was a key factor in Tennessee’s win on Tuesday and looked to have fun while he was doing it. After the game, Aidoo was one of a few players that ran into the crowd to celebrate with the student section. And in his postgame press conference, Aidoo was all smiles after the victory.

“It was great,” Aidoo said about the celebration. “The fans were great this game and I just wanted to go out there with them and have fun.”

At the end of the day, Aidoo’s sample size is still fairly small. But what an impressive sample it is. Aidoo’s play was critical in a Top 5 win for Tennessee, against a bitter rival nonetheless.

As he got more comfortable on the court throughout the game, it was evident to see why Jonas Aidoo was the top-ranked player in the state of North Carolina in 2021. And thanks to Justin Gainey, that same recruit was able to help lead Tennessee to one of their biggest wins of the season.

“He still needs to be a little bit sharper on some of the things that we need from him on the offense end,” Barnes said. “But what he does around the rim is has good feel, he has great hands, he’s long, and he can block shots. We watch him do it in practice. And the guys were telling him tonight, just go get it. And he did that a few times.”

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