published Friday, April 25th, 2014

Tyndall acknowledges big rebuilding challenge for Tennessee Vols' men's basketball

  • photo
    Donnie Tyndall speaks after being introduced as Tennessee men's basketball coach during a news conference in Knoxville.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE — The two iPhones sat on the coffee table in Donnie Tyndall's new office inside Thompson-Boling Arena, each continually buzzing right after the other in some sort of melody.

Tennessee's men's basketball coach was less than 48 hours into his tenure as lunchtime approached Thursday, and there's no shortage of calls to make or take or other tasks to address in the first week of a coaching transition.

As Adam Howard and Chris Shumate, two of his assistant coaches, worked down the hall in the very offices in which they slept Tuesday night on couch cushions from their boss's office, Tyndall intertwined time on the phone with a few 15-minute interviews with reporters.

During his session with the Times Free Press, Tyndall acknowledged the task that lies ahead of him and his staff with the Volunteers, who must replace four starters from an NCAA Sweet 16 team and refill a depleted signing class very late in the process, when pickings are slim.

"It's pretty big, to be honest with you," Tyndall said of the rebuilding job he faces, "when you talk about only having seven guys on paper returning, only one guy that averaged significant numbers.

"You lose 72 percent of your scoring, 69 percent of your rebounding -- that's quite a rebuilding situation. Then the four guys that were signed early may not come. At least half of those guys aren't going to come. You get the job almost May 1st when recruiting is darn near over with.

"It is a rebuilding situation, and people may not want to hear that because they're coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, and I get that. I don't want it to be called a three-, four-, five-year rebuilding situation, but we're not going to be ranked in the top 10 this coming season, and there's a reason.

"That's not a knock to our current players, because I think we have guys that are eager to step up and have larger roles and become a bigger part of the team, but we lost a great deal. With that said, I'm still very, very excited, and obviously ready to embrace the challenge."

When Jarnell Stokes decided to forgo his senior season with the Vols to enter the NBA draft, it gave next season a bleak outlook for the Vols in what would have been Cuonzo Martin's fourth year as coach. Four starters, including All-SEC forward Stokes, leading scorer Jordan McRae and senior leader Jeronne Maymon, were gone. They were the core of Martin's teams.

Then Martin left for California, leaving Tennessee without a coach midway through the late signing period.

Since Tyndall's hiring Tuesday, signees Larry Austin and Jordan Cornish have requested and been granted releases from their national letters of intent, and C.J. Turman and Phil Cofer also have requested releases, though Tyndall said he wanted to meet face to face with those two before granting their requests.

As for the returning cast, Josh Richardson is the only player to average more than 20 minutes this past season. Armani Moore and Darius Thompson carved out roles off the Vols' bench, and Robert Hubbs III, a former five-star recruit, is expected to be back to full health following surgery. Otherwise the roster is unproven, lacks a shooting threat and is thin in the post.

Tyndall met individually with each player and thought the interactions went well.

"All the returning players are telling me they're going to return and be back, which, knock on wood, I hope that's the case," he said as he rapped on the table.

At Morehead State, Tyndall took over a program that went 4-23 the year before his arrival. In 2005-06, the Eagles started 1-15, lost 15 straight games and lost by 68 points at No. 2 Connecticut. Morehead State had three winning seasons in nine years under Kyle Macy, Tyndall's predecessor.

Tyndall's first season at the Kentucky university began 9-5 with three losses by a combined five points before finishing 12-18. The next season, the Eagles were back in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament with an RPI nearly 100 spots better than Macy's final season. In Tyndall's third season, Morehead State won the OVC tournament to nab an NCAA tournament berth.

Southern Miss was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance when Tyndall replaced Larry Eustachy in 2012, but the Golden Eagles returned just four players and only 38 percent of the scoring from that team. In eight years under Eustachy, Southern Miss never finished higher than a fourth-place tie in Conference USA.

Tyndall took Southern Miss to a 27-10 season his first year in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles carried a lead into the final 30 seconds of the first overtime of the C-USA tournament final against Memphis before Joe Jackson hit a jump shot with 11.7 seconds to send the game into a second overtime. The Tigers went on to win by a dozen.

Southern Miss was 29-7 and shared the C-USA regular-season title this season.

Those situations, Tyndall believes, are similar to what he faces now.

"In regards to basically remolding the roster in the next 12 months, we did it at both places," he said. "At Morehead, you're coming off a four-win season and only had five guys, maybe six, returning. By the second year, every guy in the program was my player, my recruit. We flipped it quickly and got it headed in the right direction.

"At Southern Miss, we had four returning players. We were the least experienced team in the country, but yet we added some pieces over the summer and late that we were able to go on and win a school-record 27 games and the next year win the league championship with most of those guys. We flipped it quickly there, and I hope to do the same thing here."

Let the buzzing continue.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com

about Patrick Brown...

Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...

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