MARYVILLE - Well, seeing as how this is the last summer issue, it seems abundantly clear that we must mention a particular UT sport.
A men's sport.
Yup, you got it. Basketball?!?!?!?!
Over the weekend and concluding Tuesday, I've had a chance to sneak a peek at four of head coach Buzz Peterson's 2002 signees. C.J. Watson, John WInchester, Stanley Asumnu and Justin "Boomer" Herndon all play on the Tennessee Thunder, an AAU team compiled of several recent graduates and rising seniors in high school.
The Thunder are playing in the 2002 AAU Junior Olympics senior boys' basketball tournament in Blount County. They finished pool play with 3-1 record and began single-elimination bracket play Monday.
Here's a brief evaluation of each player:
WATSON; 6-2, 170 pounds, G, Las Vegas, Nev. - The parade All-American and two-time Nevada player of the year is the most important member of this class because he is a true point guard. Research has shown me UT last had a true point guard, well, a long time ago. But they've got one now.
Watson's playmaking ability, especially for an 18-year-old, is downright phenomenal. He's a floor general with excellent court vision and an above-average jump shot. He throws a perfect lob, even into traffic. He's also got hops for a 6-foot-2 player, and showed them off with a Jay (Jayson at Duke) Williams-esque one-handed dunk.
He plays tough defense, but a little too tough at times. He gets into foul trouble too much. Other than that, the SEC is a steep learning curve, but Watson is a gem. Expect him to shine near the end of the season when he gets some experience.
ASUMNU; 6-5, 200 pounds, G/F, Houston, Texas - Named a top-10 prep school player in the nation a year ago, Asumnu is listed at 6-foot-5, looks more like he's 6-foot-4 and plays more like he's 6-foot-7. He plays an all-around game, but shines above the rim. He's an excellent athlete who can jump out of the gym. He was on the receiving end of several alley-oops, and came out of nowhere to throw some of them down.
However, at 6-foot-5, he'll have to use that athleticism to play swingman in the SEC. His jumpshot is already better than sophomore Derek Stribling's, but it's not perfect. Just a little fine-tuning, and Asumnu should see the floor this year.
WINCHESTER; 6-3,175 pounds, G, Stamford, Conn. - John Winchester is a good basketball player and, if you don't believe it, just ask him. The first thing you notice about Winchester on the court is his leadership, and off the court, confidence.
He wants the ball in his hands, and rightfully so. He can score from anywhere in front of halfcourt. He's a sharpshooter from downtown, can drive to the hole and has some serious leaping ability. He also plays tough, hard-nosed defense.
However, as is the case with most emotional players, emotion is Winchester's biggest problem. A questionable call from an official or a couple missed shots in a row can get him upset, and he'll show it. He needs to learn patience.
Playing the same position as Mr. Reliable and Mr. Fundamental Jon Higgins isn't exactly an enviable position but, mark my words, Winchester will get his minutes. And you'll hear about every single one of them.
(Personal Note: I like Winchester. Flair and confidence are good things on the court, and he's still a far cry from Ron Slay. Not that I have a problem wth the way Slay plays, either).
HERNDON; 7-0, 240 pounds, C, Nashville - Boomer needs to eat some Whoppers. He needs to put at least 20 pounds on his lanky frame. Now, in all fairness, he was playing on a bum ankle all weekend. I couldn't get a true gauge of his strengths and weaknesses, but here's what I got.
Needs to be more assertive in the paint. He should use his size as an advantage. Needs to work on free throw shooting; good form, just doesn't drop. Solid ball-handling skills for a big man and has some nice post moves.
But the bottom line is weight. Herndon won't be a factor until he gains some. But, if he does, he could be a special player.
OVERALL
The future looks bright for Tennessee basketball. Peterson has said all along he wanted more quickness with his team and, with one UT's most heralded incoming classes in years, he should have it. Watson will probably start this year, and Asumnu and Winchester, with their eye-popping athleticism, look too talented to keep off the court. Herndon is a project, but he's also got serious potential.
The most important thing I was looking for was how the four played together, and they did well. They are figuring each other out, and they're getting their timing down. They look sharp when they've all got their heads in the game. (Note: Justin Albrecht, a 6-6, 215-pound transfer from Iowa Western Community College, is the last of Peterson's signees, and he also has some wheels).