The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference

Point guard Chandler already cooking at UT

74 days ago
Kevin Scarbinsky
Photo: SEC Staff

About that necklace, the one that reads "Chef," which Kennedy Chandler wore to the postgame interview room after his first game in a Tennessee uniform, a 103-62 exhibition victory over Lenoir-Rhyne. The freshman point guard explained that it comes from a nickname given to him by his high school Spanish teacher.

"He said I cook on the court," Chandler said. He did in that exhibition win with 21 points, six assists to only one turnover, five rebounds and two steals in 22 minutes, flashing the form that helped him rank as the No. 10 overall prospect and the No. 1 point guard in the Class of 2021 ESPN 100. Among SEC incoming freshmen, only Auburn forward Jabari Smith at No. 6 ranked higher.

Since ESPN began its recruiting database in 20007, only two Vols have ranked higher than the 6-foot, 171-pound Chandler: Tobias Harris at No. 6 in 2010 and Scotty Hopson at No. 9 in 2008. UT coach Rick Barnes said Chandler should only get better thanks to the daily competition at the point guard position with junior Santiago Vescovi and fellow freshman Zakai Zeigler.

"Those two guys, along with Kennedy, every single day, go at it. Every single day," Barnes said during a "Build Up 2 Basketball" visit with SEC This Morning. "I think Kennedy would tell you the best thing that's happened to him coming to Tennessee, other than the fact that he loves this university, is the fact that the competition that he has seen from those guys.

"They have all complemented each other. It's really neat the way they have come together and really helped embrace each other. We're counting on all three of those heavily. I think at some point in time this year, it's not far-fetched to think that all three of them could be on the floor (at the same time). We're excited about that position with our team this year."

The arrival of Chandler, late-signee Zeigler and Auburn transfer Justin Powell helps make up for the loss of last year's top two leading scorers, one-and-done guards Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, to the first round of the 2021 NBA Draft.

This Tennessee team already looks different through two 40-minute intrasquad scrimmages, a closed scrimmage against Davidson and the exhibition game. After the Lenoir-Rhyne win, Barnes said the Vols shot at least 40 3-point shots in each of those game-like outings and connected on no less than 40 percent from deep each time.

Chandler and Powell each hit four treys in the exhibition game. As a team, UT went 17 for 46 from beyond the arc. The school record in an official game is 16 made 3-pointers.

The Vols should be able to score at every level, especially when super senior John Fulkerson returns, likely by the season opener, from surgery on a broken thumb. The versatile 6-9 Fulkerson is heading into his sixth season in Knoxville thanks to the NCAA's COVID eligibility rule. Barnes is in his seventh season at UT. The coach appreciates the presence of the preseason All-SEC first-team selection.

"John's one of those guys, honestly, you never want to see him leave because he never has a bad day," Barnes said. "The glass is always full. He's a very unselfish person, and he's always looking out for other people."

With newcomers like Chandler and vets like Fulkerson, look for Tennessee to make a run at the SEC title and its fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.