published Tuesday, May 6th, 2014

UT Vols basketball team secures All-American Kevin Punter

KNOXVILLE — Another official visitor, another spot filled for next season.

New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall and his staff landed a second player Monday when guard Kevin Punter, out of State Fair Community College in Missouri, signed with the Volunteers following an official visit to Knoxville this past weekend.

The 6-foot-4 Punter, who committed to Missouri in April but reopened his recruitment before signing, when coach Frank Haith left for Tulsa, averaged 20.3 points per game for State Fair in 2013-14 and was a National Junior College Athletic Association first-team All-American.

He called his visit "exciting and above average" shortly after announcing his decision on Twitter.

"I don't want to say 'a little bit of everything,' but everything, down to the academic side of it, the basketball side of it, the fans, the people around -- everything was a real focal point," Punter said by phone Monday morning. "I don't want to say anything too specific because it wasn't one specific. Just being out there, I loved everything about it, loved everything out there."

Punter starred at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., and averaged 28 points per game to earn a McDonald's High School All-American nomination in 2011. He played a prep school season at Body of Christ Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., and averaged 24.2 points.

After averaging nearly 13 points per game for State Fair in 2012-13, Punter excelled this past season with shooting averages of 57 percent from the field, 37 percent on 3-pointers and nearly 83 percent from the free-throw line. He had 21 20-point games.

"I can really score the ball," he said. "I can score the ball in a bunch of different ways. It doesn't even matter, I can put the ball in the hoop. I'm going to play hard, play defense. That's how you win games, is on the defensive end. I'm going to get there in June, be real competitive and try to win every game I step on that court."

Punter landed in Knoxville on Friday with a solid familiarity level with the Vols' new coaches. Tennessee's assistants -- Al Pinkins at Ole Miss and Adam Howard and Chris Shumate at Southern Mississippi -- all had recruited him at their previous stops. Punter's ties with Tyndall go back even further.

"I've known Coach Tyndall for a while now," he said. "He recruited me to go to Morehead State, so me and him had some type of connection previously already. It wasn't nothing really new like that, but like I said, I liked the whole coaching staff. The whole coaching staff is great.

"I already knew what type of guy Coach [Tyndall] was beforehand. Me being out there, you could definitely tell he was excited I was out there and exited for the upcoming season. This upcoming season is going to be great."

In Tennessee's release announcing the signing, Tyndall said Punter's combination of athleticism, length and versatility "make him a player who fits our style perfectly."

"Kevin is a gym rat, which is exciting," Tyndall added, "because guys like that who spend a lot of time in the gym always maximize their potential."

Jabari McGhee, a 6-8 forward out of Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, signed with the Vols on Friday.

The Vols remain in contention for Georgia forward Phil Cofer, whom the Vols' new staff released a little more than a week ago but visited last week. The son of a former Vols linebacker announced a final four of Tennessee, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, according to multiple reports. He has yet to take an official visit to Tennessee.

Tennessee also has been linked to three transferring players.

According to ESPN national writer Jeff Goodman, IUPUI guard Ian Chiles will visit the Vols this week and Maryland next week. He recently visited Auburn, directed by popular former Vols coach Bruce Pearl. The 6-1 guard averaged nearly 16 points and notched 15 20-point games for the Horizon League's Jaguars this past season.

The Vols also were mentioned in connection with Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke, a 6-3 guard who finished second in the Pac-12 in 3-point shooting percentage (.456), and Florida Gulf Coast forward Eric McKnight, who is looking for his third school after playing one season at Iowa State and two with the Eagles.

A source close to Tennessee's new staff said late last week the Vols had no finalized visitors for this week, but that certainly could change.

If it does, Tyndall will hope to get a commitment phone call similar to the one he received from Punter.

"He couldn't wait," Punter said. "He wanted me to really be a Tennessee Vol. Just being with him on the visit, we talked a lot just about a whole bunch of different things, and when I gave him a call back, he was just excited, real excited."

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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