By Jimmy Hyams
Paul Biancardi, ESPN national recruiting analyst, thinks Tennessee struck it rich by signing 5-star, 6-foot-8 forward Julian Phillips.
“He’s a game-changer because he can put points on the board,’’ Biancardi said during a Wednesday interview on SportsTalk WNML Radio 99.1 FM. “He’s long, athletic, highly skilled on the perimeter. He can go to the mid-post.
“He’s not a great ballhandler. He can shoot the 3 and get on the glass. He can create his own shot inside the circle with one dribble. He can finish (at the rim) with his touch or athleticism.
“He’s coachable and competitive.’’
Biancardi said Phillips has “a lot to learn about defense,’’ but UT coach Rick Barnes will teach him that.
“You’ve got talent that can get his own shot and a talent you can get a shot for,’’ he said. “He can put the ball in the basket with his natural ability.
“He blends in well with other guys. He understands at times he needs to be the star, but he also knows when to defer. … He has a teachable spirit that will accelerate his growth under coach Barnes.’’
Tennessee has appeared at No. 10 in at least one preseason poll. Biancardi thinks it is deserved, especially with Phillips, an LSU de-commit, now on the roster.
“It’s spot on,’’ Biancardi said. “They’re somewhere between 10 and 15, but you have to put in the coaching factor, the coaching hat. (Barnes) gets talent to play hard and play together and defend hard. Everybody says, `I’d love to have that talent,’ but try to get that talent to defend and play hard and play together on offense.’’
Biancardi thinks sophomore Zakai Ziegler is ready to take over the point and freshman B.J. Edwards along with Santiago Vescovi and Indiana State transfer Tyreke Key give the Vols plenty of depth and options at the point.
Biancardi said adding Iowa State point guard transfer Tyrese Hunter would be huge.
“That’s a real game changer,’’ Biancardi said, “because he’s battle tested, a Big 12 all-league player, plays with great speed. If they get Hunter, they could easily go into the top five.’’
Biancardi thinks the Vols will miss point guard Kennedy Chandler, a one-and-down who helped himself at the recent NBA combine with the No. 1 vertical jump (41 ½ inches) and the second-best shuttle drill (10.73 seconds). He measured a 6-foot-5 ¼-inch wing span..
“He’s a team guy,’’ Biancardi said of Chandler. “He’s got the float game when he gets into the paint. He makes other people better. Good to solid 3-point shooter. I thought he shot the ball real well for Tennessee the last five games of the season. He’s got to brush up on the open 3-point shot. He finds other people. He gets into the paint. He brings a franchise a lot. He understands how to win.’’
Biancardi thinks a great fit for Chandler would be with his hometown Memphis Grizzles to team up with Ja Morant, or the Spurs.
Biacardi complimented the play of VFL Grant Williams, the former SEC Player of the Year who, at 6-foot-7, has been forced to become a 3-point shooter in the NBA. In a semifinal game against defending champion Milwaukee, Williams tied a Game 7 record with seven made 3s for the Boston Celtics.
Williams missed his first 25 3-point tries in the NBA but his outside shot has improved greatly.
“He shot fakes into the 3-point shot now,’’ Biancardi said. “He’s beautiful from the outside. He’s got a lot of confidence right now.’’
Biancardi has followed Williams since he was in high school.
“One of the smartest players I’ve ever seen at the high school level,’’ Biancardi said. “Tough, physically imposing at 6-5-plus. It’s the brains and strength that make him the player he is.’’
Biancardi likes the most recent UT commit, 6-8 forward Awaka of Bronx, N.Y. Biancardi expects Awaka to reclassify to the Class of 2022.
“This is a big, strong, physically imposing guy.’’ Biancardi said. “ The kind of guy Rick Barnes thrives with at the low post. He’s a monster inside. What you’ll love about him is his personality, great hands, good foot work. He’ll score with angles around the basket and drop steps. He can make a 3-point shot when he’s left wide open. You’ll see him mostly on the pick-and-role and dash to basket.’’