KNOXVILLE — Back on the market after a coaching change at his initial destination, Tariq Owens got an unexpected call.
The 6-foot-10 forward from Maryland had just been granted a release from his National Letter of Intent at Ohio late last month when Tennessee, needing to replenish a depleted roster and booster a thin frontcourt, called with interest.
On Wednesday, it was Owens making the call to sign with the Volunteers and new coach Donnie Tyndall.
"After I got my release from Ohio, my dad told me that Tennessee had called about me," Owens said by phone Wednesday afternoon. "Pretty much that's how it all started. Tennessee had called, and I started talking to the coaches, learning about the school and set up a visit.
"I knew a little bit [about Tennessee] as far as I follow basketball," he added. "As far the situation with their bigs, they had some declare for the draft, some graduated, so I knew they would have a shortage for my position going in. When they first called, I had already knew that they had to shore up the position, but I didn't know that they would be calling me."
Owens, out of Mt. Zion Prep School in Baltimore by way of St. Vincent Pallotti High School in Laurel, is the eighth player to sign with the Vols since Tyndall's hire exactly one month ago.
With Darius Thompson's decision late Tuesday to transfer to Virginia, Owens will take Tennessee's final available scholarship slot for the upcoming season, though rising senior Rawane "Pops" Ndiaye -- right now one of five returning players from the Vols' Sweet 16 team -- may decide to leave the program and thus open up another spot.
Tyndall is hoping for an answer from the 6-foot-10 center sometime in the next week.
As for Owens, the No. 173 player in the country according to 247sports.com, he'd signed with Ohio, but the Bobcats released him after North Dakota State's Saul Phillips replaced Jim Christian, who took the job at Boston College.
"I'm glad this process is over," he said. "It was a hard process. It was hard to make this decision from the schools that I had and picking between the schools, but I feel like I made the right decision."
With his options open again, Owens said he was focused on Tennessee, Temple, Seton Hall and UT Martin, and he visited the Vols late last week.
"Tennessee was a good fit," he said. "I like the coaching staff. I got a good vibe with the coaching staff when I was there. We went around, viewed the campus and it was a sweet campus. I enjoyed the campus while I was there. I just left like it would be a good fit.
"Coach Tyndall, he's real cool. He's a straight-shooter. He keeps it real, so I know that playing for him, I'll be able to do some big things as long as I listen and buy into his system."
Owens, rated as a four-star prospect by Scout entering this season, will join Florida Gulf Coast transfer Eric McKnight, Hargrave Military Academy's Jabari McGhee and former Southern Mississippi signee Willie Carmichael as Tennessee's incoming post players.
"Tariq is a very long, athletic and versatile post player," Tyndall said in Tennessee's release. "For a guy his size, he has a really impressive skill level. He can step out and make 15- to 18-footers, and he certainly has the potential to impact the game at the defensive end early in his career."
The 210-pound Owens will need to add weight and develop more of an offensive game, but he certainly fits the bill of a prospect with upside.
"The things I do best are definitely defensively," he said. "I like playing defense. It's fun blocking shots, rebounding and running the floor. The things I work on are ballhandling and little things like that to just become more offensive-minded.
"Their style of play, it fits me well. They get up and down the court and press. Coach Tyndall said they press, fall back and pressures the offense on D. It sounds like the type of system I want to play in.
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
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 ...