It was a largely quiet debut from Tennessee redshirt freshman guard Freddie Dilione. The highest rated recruit in the Vols’ 2023 recruiting class, before reclassifying and early enrolling last January, scored seven points in the Vols’ 80-42 win over Tennessee Tech. All seven points came in the second half with the game in hand.
But ninth-year Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was pleased with what his talented combo guard showed him in his regular season debut.
“I would say as a staff, we’re proud of Freddie and what he did. I thought he really, really tried to play defense,” Barnes said.
Dilione is a naturally offensively talented player. His ability to create his own shot off the dribble and score at all three levels made him a top 50 prospect and is why some NBA mock drafts place him as a first round pick.
But the combo guard struggles on the defensive end. Some of those issues persisted against the Golden Eagles but his defensive effort and intensity was up to Barnes’ high standards.
“We were really proud of him in trying to play defense and I thought he tried to play through fatigue,” Barnes said. “That’s probably the hardest thing for young guys to understand the mental side of it. That means detail, being detail oriented. Might be as simple as being in a stance, being alert away from the ball, all those things. That’s where he’s going. I think he’ll continue to get better, but today was by far away, I thought his most effort, productivity on the defensive end.”
Dilione’s offensive skill was on display in the second half against the Golden Eagles. The North Carolina native played 10 second half minutes while Tennessee opened up its massive lead. That’s when Dilione scored his seven points on three-of-five shooting from the field.
The redshirt freshman combo guard added three assists and three rebounds in addition to two turnovers. Barnes predictably wants the turnovers cleaned up but liked what he saw on the offensive end.
“Offense, he messed with it a little bit too much sometimes, but that’s what he’s starting to figure out now,” Barnes said. “The game is different, but he’s trying really hard. … With his length, he’s got a chance to be a complete player.”
How Barnes handles Tennessee’s deep backcourt is a fascinating ongoing development. The season opener was the first time that Tennessee’s had its whole team active giving Barnes and his staff little time to figure out the rotation.
Zakai Zeigler will play more minutes as he works his way back from injury and Barnes noted that he “doesn’t know” how rotations will shake out. However, Dilione has the offensive talent to help Tennessee in his inaugural college season.
He just needs to keep making Barnes proud with his defensive effort.