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Tennessee Basketball Practice Observations: Oct. 4

Tennessee Basketball Practice 10/4 – Photo by Ric Butler/RTI

Tennessee’s men’s basketball team held a practice open to the media Tuesday afternoon to conclude the Vols’ in house media day.

Eighth-year head coach Rick Barnes put his team in an extended scrimmage portion for the majority of the afternoon practice.

Freshman D.J. Jefferson worked off to the side with ankle soreness but the rest of the Vols were full participants.

There were no true starters and backups in the scrimmage, but just a team in orange and grey practice jerseys.

Santiago Vescovi, Josiah Jordan-James, Tyreke Key, Julian Phillips, Jonas Aidoo (though Aidoo switched teams later in practice), Tobe Awaka and Isaiah Sulack made up the orange team.

B.J. Edwards, Zakai Zeigler, Jahmai Mashack, Uros Plavsic, Olivier Nkamhoua and additional walk ons made up the grey team.

The grey team defeated the orange team, 65-48.

Here are some observations and takeaways.

We’ll start with Zakai Zeigler who was the best player on the court by my estimation. I didn’t keep stats from the practice but I would be shocked if Zeigler was not the leading scorer. On the less offensively talented team, Zeigler pushed the grey teams offense.

On play that stood out: Zeigler got past Vescovi, kept him on his back and drilled a floater while Vescovi’s forearm hit him in the side of the head.

Jahmai Mashack was the biggest surprise of the day. We know Mashack is a strong defender but he was offensively challenged during his freshman season. I noted Mashack scoring nine points including a three-pointer he took with confidence, a contested mid range and a pair of nice finishes at the basket.

The Vols have an abundance of backcourt depth and if Mashack’s afternoon was a sign of true growth and not a flash in the pan it’s going to be hard for Barnes to find enough minutes for his off ball guards.

More From RTI: Rick Barnes Talks First Week Of Practice

Uros Plavsic had a nice afternoon on the glass and had his own with Tobe Awaka on the offensive glass.

On to the freshman Awaka who had a tough afternoon. The freshman big man earned Barnes’ ire throughout the practice as he struggled to execute what the Vols’ wanted in their offensive sets. Awaka’s strength is his rebounding and as previously noted, Plavsic bested him Tuesday.

I was more excited to watch Tyreke Key than anyone Tuesday and after assistant coaches Rod Clark and Justin Gainey raved to me about his scoring ability earlier during media day my excitement only grew. Key’s scoring ability was well on display.

The Indiana State grad transfer showcased a beautiful shooting stroke with his now healthy right shoulder. Key’s craftiness was on display too with him scoring a handful of ways around the basket. The 6-foot-2 guard showcased a nice right-handed baby hook a handful of times.

Clark told me earlier during media day that Key is a guy they can get the ball too and isolate when they are struggling to score. That move looks useful for the physical guard in a situation like that.

On to the negatives with Key’s practice. The transfer guard is clearly one of Tennessee’s second point guard candidates besides Zeigler and his ball handling and decision making earned Barnes’ anger and earned him time on the VersaClimber.

Key didn’t play much point guard at Indiana State and it showed. That’s not to say Key can’t grow into a serviceable point guard but it’s definitely a work in progress.

Let’s move on to Tennessee’s other highly touted newcomers— five-star Julian Phillips.

Phillips flashed a strong shooting stroke from three-point range and finished well at the basket on cuts. He didn’t show much ability to score off the dribble as he worked mostly at the three Tuesday.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Phillips is how little time Barnes spent yelling at him. Freshmen typically make plenty of mistakes in practice that Barnes’ passionately points out. That wasn’t the case for Phillips. The only time I heard Barnes get on Phillips was towards the end of practice about the freshman’s defense working around screens.

I’ll keep my notes on veteran leaders brief. Santiago Vescovi is still a stout shooter. Josiah Jordan-James spent a lot of the afternoon on the sidelines but looked like the guy we’re accustomed to seeing while he was out there.

One final note on the second point guard spot. B.J. Edwards, Key and Vescovi all worked at point guard with Key likely spending the most time there.

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