🏀 Tennessee's transfer week

The next move for the Vols

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • The transfer portal’s impact on Tennessee Basketball

  • A few players and storylines to watch in the Orange & White Game

  • Kentucky’s basketball coach hire… is a surprising one

  • The takeover of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament

TENNESSEE’S BIG TRANSFER WEEK

Tobe Awaka will transfer from Tennessee (or will he?)

Tennessee basketball has had quite a week.

The Vols’ front court received a big shakeup over the last few days with the news of Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka deciding to enter the transfer portal.

The Awaka news on Tuesday was hard for a lot of Tennessee fans to take.

Awaka plays hard every second he’s on the floor and fits the profile of a Rick Barnes player.

Awaka has the talent and work ethic to become a high-level player; he also has improving to do, especially in the foul department.

He struggled with foul trouble during a lot of the season.

Thursday’s news of Aidoo entering the transfer portal appeared to bring differing opinions.

Aidoo’s (expected) departure further depletes Tennessee’s front court.

But there the Vols will also have a chance to improve their post play after Aidoo’s disappointing finish to the season during the NCAA tournament.

Both things can be true:

1️⃣ Aidoo is a talented player who will be difficult to replace.

2️⃣ Tennessee can potentially find a better option in the post and has the resources (💰) to attract talented options in the transfer portal.

Remember this about Aidoo: his postseason was disappointing (and that’s a big deal), but he was also second-team All-SEC and became just the fifth different Tennessee player to make the SEC’s All-Defensive team.

While Tennessee will look for options among the big men in the transfer portal, the Vols have already begun work on acquiring players on the wing.

Hofstra transfer Darlinstone Dubar will visit Knoxville this weekend.

He’s an intriguing player.

The 6-foot-8, 210-pound wing averaged close to 18 points and 7 rebounds a game last year while shooting at a 40-percent rate from 3.

Tennessee will pursue several other highly-touted prospects in the portal.

Reminder: so will everyone else in college basketball.

Another player to watch will be Cade Tyson, a Belmont transfer who shot 46.5% from 3 this past season.

He’s scheduled to visit Tennessee this weekend.

Tyson is from Monroe, N.C., and has received strong interest from North Carolina. The Tar Heels could be tough to beat.

➡️ So the wrap-up to this conversation is: there’s a long way to go in this college basketball offseason.

Players can enter the transfer portal and still return… if that school’s coaching staff lets them.

So don’t rule out someone like Awaka returning to Tennessee.

Also, don’t rule out anyone else leaving Tennessee (besides Zakai Zeigler; that would be stunning).

We discussed the news of Awaka entering the transfer portal with VFL Ron Slay and looked at options for next year, including JP Estrella, a rising sophomore with a lot of potential.

TENNESSEE’S SPRING ‘GAME’

Enjoy Nico while he’s out there on Saturday

It’s kind of crazy the newsletter led with hoops over football on the Friday before Tennessee’s spring game.

But Tennessee basketball dominated the headlines this week and UT football hasn’t brought a ton of interest during spring practice.

The second part isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Tennessee has practiced behind closed doors with several starters resting during a lot of spring.

That’s kept the talk a little quieter than normal — something head coach Josh Heupel probably likes.

Tennessee will hit the field at Neyland Stadium on Saturday in front of a limited crowd (about 10,000 people) due to stadium renovations.

There will still be big screens and activities for fans outside the stadium (info from UT here) and a big baseball series against LSU on campus.

As for the football on the field, here are a few things to watch on Saturday:

🟠 Nico Iamaleava

Enjoy him while he’s out there because it will be for a limited time.

The Vols will likely allow Iamaleava to play for a series or two and then get him off the field.

But it will still offer fans a chance to see the player creating the most hype for Tennessee entering the 2024 season.

After Nico exits, expect a lot of Gaston Moore, who projects as the No. 2 guy at the start of the season, and freshman Jake Merklinger, a four-star freshman who will compete to be the backup.

Lots of skill position players

Tennessee has a bunch of wide receivers battling for playing time.

That should give fans something to see on Saturday.

The running back position isn’t deep, but the need for someone to emerge behind starter Dylan Sampson is top priority.

Cameron Seldon (shoulder) is out at running back, which creates an opportunity for Khalifa Keith and DeSean Bishop to show what they can do.

Will the Vols go after a running back in the transfer portal?

How the staff feels about Keith and Bishop (as well as freshman Peyton Lewis, recovering from a procedure), will play a big role in that decision.

🟠 Second-year players

There are several rising sophomores looking to take on bigger roles for Tennessee.

Veteran offensive linemen like Cooper Mays and Javontez Spraggins will stand on the sideline while younger players like Ayden Bussell, Vysen Lang and Sham Umarov show what they can do.

Jeremiah Telander at linebacker and cornerbacks Rickey Gibson III and Jordan Matthews will show off their progress through the offseason.

Tennessee should be a deeper team at several positions thanks to the Vols’ recruiting over the last couple of years.

Let’s see how much that depth might be able to help Tennessee this fall.

We discussed the spring game, the Vols’ running back position, and key recruits for Tennessee (5⭐ OL David Sanders) with Austin Price of Volquest this week. Check out the full conversation below.

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 Here are five things to watch for in this weekend’s Tennessee spring game.

🏈 Tom Brady said he’s “not opposed” to coming out of retirement to help a team, although there are several reasons that could be difficult.

🏈 RB Damien Martinez from Oregon State is a player to watch for Tennessee, but his reported price tag could be a BIG hurdle.

🏀 John Adams understands why Danny White hired Kim Caldwell following her introductory press conference as the Lady Vols’ head coach.

🏀 The John Calipari Era at Arkansas is underway as Calipari said “there is no team” currently in Fayetteville.

🏌️‍♂️ Tiger Woods is 1 under through 13 holes at The Masters but faces a huge test on Friday after Thursday’s shortened start.

⚾ Can MLB do anything about the early-season injuries to all the pitchers? It’s a big problem to start the year.

⚾ Here’s a preview of Tennessee’s home series against LSU. The Vols’ Friday starting pitcher is TBD as of this writing.

POPE RETURNING HOME

Is former Wildcat Mark Pope the right answer for Kentucky?

It’s not a done deal, but as of this writing Friday morning Kentucky is expected to hire former Wildcats player Mark Pope as its next head coach.

The start of the newsletter mentioned it’s been quite a week for Tennessee basketball… but it doesn’t compare to the week Kentucky has had.

John Calipari is off to Arkansas, which led Big Blue Nation to get excited about the chance to upgrade its head coaching position.

And Kentucky might have done that — it’s way too early to know — but fans had bigger ideas than Pope when the job came open.

However, Scott Drew at Baylor reportedly rejected the chance to coach Kentucky and other big names like Dan Hurley at UConn and Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan showed no interest.

So Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart pivoted, and we’ll see how it goes.

Pope has done a nice job coaching at BYU but has also never won an NCAA tournament game.

The Cougars were a No. 6 seed in this year’s tournament before losing in the first round to No. 11 seed Duquesne.

Expect Kentucky to shoot a lot of 3s — BYU was fourth in the nation this season on three-point attempts per field goal attempts.

We’ll see how Kentucky reacts to the news on Friday (assuming it’s finalized).

There’s likely to be initial disappointment (and some freak out!) followed by a rally behind their new coach.

Kentucky isn’t the first big-time basketball program this week to hire an unproven coach.

As we always see, there’s the reaction to the news… and then everything else that matters.

It’s always about the results that follow.

Can a coach recruit, built the right kind of staff, and ultimately win championships?

That’s what makes a great hire.

THE WOMEN’S GAME SHINES

Iowa star Caitlin Clark grabbed the sports world’s attention

The women’s NCAA championship game brought more interest than the men’s tournament during a lot of the postseason.

Caitlin Clark of Iowa is the biggest reason.

Without her, the viewership wouldn’t have touched the crazy number of 18.7 million on Sunday.

But the women’s game has done a good job overall of drawing interest from big-time teams (South Carolina, UConn, LSU) and talented players with personalities (Clark, LSU’s Angel Reese, and others).

And fans showed interest.

Will the men’s game be able to benefit in the future from players deciding to stay in college for 3-4 years to benefit from the money they’re now able to receive?

It’s difficult to predict the men’s game will have someone like Clark because the best men’s players will almost always move on to the NBA.

But the women’s game showed the interest that still exists in the college basketball world.

It’s again why Tennessee is motivated to return the Lady Vols brand into the national title conversation.

Tennessee athletic director Danny White called new coach Kim Caldwell a “rising" star” on SportsTalk this week.

He sold Caldwell’s exciting style (comparing it to Josh Heupel’s football offense), which UT will pitch to future recruits.

We’ll see if the results follow.

But the mission is pretty clear.

So is the opportunity.

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