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Barnes: Felix Okpara Brings Tennessee A Physicality They ‘Haven’t Consistently Had’

Photo via Ohio State Athletics

Tennessee basketball lost four players to the transfer portal this offseason with by far the most noteworthy losses being big men Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka.

While both were significant losses, the Vols have a strong plan to replace them. Rick Barnes and his coaching staff are high on rising sophomore power forward JP Estrella and the Maine native will step into a bigger role next season.

Then Tennessee went out and landed a near consensus top 50 player in the transfer portal— Ohio State center Felix Okpara.

A rising junior, Okpara started 34 games for Ohio State last season and is one of the best defensive big men in the entire country— let alone the transfer portal.

“He brings us a physicality that we love to have and haven’t consistently had there,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes at the Big Orange Caravan last week. “I think with what we’ve seen and what we evaluated, I think he’s got some untapped ability there offensively. He runs, he’s strong and being around him, he impressed me with the fact that he’s got a really competitive edge about him that’s going to fit in well with our guys.”

Okpara blocked 83 shots last season and was one of just five players in the country that blocked over 80 shots last season. The 6-foot-11 center posted a 10.25% block rate last season, a mark that ranked 18th nationally.

More From RTI: How Felix Okpara Compares To Jonas Aidoo And Tobe Awaka

Aidoo was also a strong rim protector against driving big men but was to slender to successful defend physical low post scorers. Awaka had the physicality to defend low post scorers but was frequently in foul trouble. He was average at protecting the rim against driving guards.

Okpara’s skillset on the defensive end is a blend of the outgoing transfers with length to protect the rim and better defensive strength.

Playing 23.6 minutes per game, Okpara averaged 6.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He has a physicality around the rim that makes him effective defensively and as a rebounder and low post finisher.

“He’s like a lot of guys his size,” Barnes said. “He’s just kind of scratching the surface in terms of where he can be, but he showed us that he can do a lot and we’re going to try and not put him in a box and get him to do maybe more than he might think he can.”

Okpara is still very raw offensively and was mostly a dunker and lob threat as a sophomore at Ohio State. He didn’t attempt jump shots and was not effective as a back to the basket scorer.

Discussing his commitment with RTI, Okpara discussed his desire to round out his offensive game. Barnes echoed that same sentiment while discussing the 6-foot-11 center.

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