KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee freshman forward Yemi Makanjuola is still accompanied by an interpreter whenever the Nigerian native is asked to meet with the media.
His game needed no interpretation against The Citadel on Thursday night, however.
Scoring 18 straight points during one stretch, Big Mak recorded a stunning double-double in just 11 minutes of second-half action in the Volunteers’ 86-55 victory.
“I knew it would come at some point,” said first-year UT coach Cuonzo Martin, who then added, “maybe next year.”
Instead — after failing to play a single minute in last week’s 66-63 win over East Tennessee State — Makanjuola finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds (including seven on offense) against the Bulldogs. His previous highs had been six points and seven rebounds, both coming against Division II Chaminade.
“Yemi’s a defender and rebounder first,” Martin said, “but he’s really improved on offense. He can really make shots and he’s a good free-throw shooter, so this isn’t necessarily a surprise.”
Here’s a surprise: After losing four straight games from Nov. 28 to Dec. 14, the Big Orange have now won three in a row to improve to 6-6 for the season heading into Monday night’s visit from UT-Chattanooga.
“We just want to win every game we play from now on,” said Makanjuola, who played last season at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., the same school that produced Kentucky one-year wonder and 2010 overall No. 1 NBA draft pick John Wall.
“Yemi was a different animal out there tonight,” said UT point guard Trae Golden, who finished with 10 points and five assists. “I have never seen anything like that before. That was impressive.”
His whole team impressed Martin enough for him to proclaim, “Probably the best game I’ve seen our team play on both ends of the floor for two halves.”
It was hard to dispute that assessment. Dropping The Citadel to 2-10 on the season, the Vols hit 56 percent of their field-goal tries (41 percent from the 3-point line), outrebounded the Bulldogs 40-27, handed out nearly twice as many assists (17-9) and blocked five shots.
Beyond that, the bench — led by Makanjuola and junior Skylar McBee (12 points) — finished with 50 of the Vols’ 86 points, the fourth straight game in which reserves contributed at least 18 points.
“That’s a major step, especially when you shoot it at a good clip,” Martin said.
But the biggest step was clearly taken by Makanjuola, whose 6-foot-9, 244-pound frame strongly hints that this will not be his last big game this season.
“Unpredictably predictable,” said senior Renaldo Woolridge, the basketball player former known by his rapper tag “Swiper Boy.”
Asked to explain, he said, “You don’t know when [a breakout Makanjuola moment] is going to happen, but you know it can happen.”
Here’s unpredictable: Asked how he would celebrate his first collegiate double-double, Makanjuola said, “Go back to my room and watch a movie.”
“The Lion King.”
A couple of more nights like this and he can start borrowing lines from Simba, especially the one about becoming the “Mane event.”
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...