It’s been a long time since Tennessee junior guard Jordan Gainey has come off the bench. The USC Upstate transfer started for the Spartans from the first game of his freshman year and even started this preseason for Tennessee while the Vols dealt with a number of injuries and absences.
But through three games, Gainey looks as comfortable as possible coming off the bench for Tennessee basketball and has sparked the Vols’ offense in all three games.
“Just really going out there and just do what I do and bring whatever the team needs and just really have fun,” Gainey said Tuesday night on his new role. “That’s the biggest thing. And just not really thinking about it. Just enjoying every moment that I’m out there on the floor.”
Gainey didn’t immediately spark offense against Wofford on Tuesday night. He didn’t score for just over four minutes after checking into the game but he finally got on the board with a pair of triples within a minute of one another. That proved important as Tennessee struggled to create separation against the SoCon foe.
While it didn’t come immediately against Wofford, the transfer guard almost immediately provided an offensive boost in each of the Vols’ first two games of the season.
Against Tennessee Tech, Gainey scored seven points in less than four minutes into his first stint into the game. Against Wisconsin, the 6-foot-3 combo guard scored five points within his first minute in the game.
“I think Jordan Gainey has done a terrific job coming in every game, giving us a spark and getting things,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
It’s still early in the season but Gainey is giving Tennessee more consistent offensive production than nearly anyone expected when he first committed. Gainey is averaging 13 points per game on 45% shooting from three-point range and has scored in double-figures in all three regular season and both preseason games.
The instant offense helps Tennessee avoid long offensive lulls. Gainey’s been a weapon for Tennessee as essentially its sixth man while threading the fine line of being aggressive offensively while not forcing bad shots.
“I just do everything I practice,” Gainey said. “I really just try to have fun, as much fun as I can. That’s everyone. Every moment we get on that court is valuable, and doing whatever we can do to stay on the court. Really, just going out there playing as hard as I can, as long as I’m out there and the results will show. And do what I do.”
Gainey’s high effort and intensity is a big part of his success so far this season. The junior’s defensive prowess was a question when he transferred to Tennessee and while he hasn’t been elite on that end, he’s a plus-defender in large part due to the energy he brings on both ends of the court.
“I think it’s his energy and tenacity,” sophomore forward Tobe Awaka said of Gainey. “Defensively, he gets up into the ball. Whoever’s the primary ball handler, he’s disrupting them, making it hard for them to initiate the offense. And then offensively, we all know he’s a great shooter, but he’s more than that, way more than that. He can facilitate pretty well and just getting down there to the bucket, putting pressure on the big guys. It’s been really big for us.”
Both areas are important pieces to the puzzle. The offensive confidence Gainey plays with is a great sign. Unlike transfer shooters Tennessee’s added in recent years, he’s playing with complete confidence and without second guessing himself. The defensive effort makes Gainey’s role remaining large all season more realistic.
Gainey’s proved he can be a tremendous weapon for Tennessee off the bench. If he can sustain it, the Vols have another serious offensive weapon.