Can he recruit?

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New Tennessee basketball coach Donnie Tyndall exhibited poise and wit in answering dozens of questions from media types at his introductory news conference Tuesday at Pratt Pavilion but the key question remains unanswered: Can he recruit at a high-major level?

The level of athlete that won big against mid-major competition at Morehead State and Southern Miss won't cut it now that Tyndall is competing against the Kentuckys and Floridas of the world. Both made the 2014 Final Four, in case you forgot.

Tyndall understands he must up the ante in recruiting. He insists he'll pursue the five-stars as zealously as anyone.

"We're going to recruit the best players in America," he said. "We will never walk into a (high school) gym and be OK with finishing second fiddle with anyone we recruit. When we walk in with that T on our chest, people are going to say, ‘Oh, boy. We better lace ‘em up,' because we're going to compete every day relentlessly on the recruiting trail."

Although he is nearly 100 miles farther from Memphis in Knoxville (394 miles) than he was at his previous job in Hattiesburg, Miss. (298), Tyndall vowed to build a pipeline to the Bluff City, tweaking the nose of University of Memphis coach Josh Pastner in the process.

"We've got to start right here in our home state," Tyndall said. "We've got to get into Memphis. We've got to control our state because we are the best program in the state, and we want everybody that wants to be a Vol or should be a Vol to be a Tennessee Vol.

"We'll leave no stone unturned. As I mentioned, our recruiting efforts will be second to none. I will have a staff of young, aggressive go-getters that will be great with our players and do a fantastic job so that you see NBA-type players and great college players on our roster every year."

Unless someone develops rapidly, there will be no "NBA-type players" on the 2014-15 roster. The departure of 2013-14 starters Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton has cost the Big Orange 70.7 percent of last season's scoring, 63.3 percent of the rebounding and 56.7 percent of the assist total. With two scholarships at his disposal, Tyndall admits he may try to bolster the roster with a couple of spring signees.

"We've been active," he said. "We have our hands on four or five guys that are just becoming available due to coaching changes, late qualifiers and things of that nature. But we won't sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don't feel like a young man can 100 percent fit in to how we play … we'll hold the scholarship and carry it over to the next class.

"That being said, we have two scholarships to give and, if it's the right guy or two, we'll certainly look to fill those."

Whereas predecessor Cuonzo Martin seemed almost as interested in character as talent, Tyndall hinted that prospects need not be choir boys to play for him.

"We're not going to have thugs; we're not going to have renegades in our program. It won't happen on my watch," he said. "Will we have perfect angels? I doubt it – I'm not a perfect angel – but we're going to have people that are prideful to wear the Tennessee uniform and want to represent our university the exact right way."

Tyndall said he plans to bring his USM assistants with him to Tennessee but noted that some may fill different roles, suggesting he may be looking to hire an ace recruiter from another school. The obvious choice would be Oklahoma State assistant Butch Pierre, who served with Tyndall on the LSU staff of John Brady from 1997-2001. Pierre's recruits include current NBA players Anthony Randolph (Timberwolves), Glen Davis (Celtics), Marcus Thornton (Kings), Chris Johnson (Trailblazers), Brandon Bass (Magic) and Garrett Temple (Bobcats).

Two factors should help Tyndall recruit for Tennessee. First, the school is switching its attire provider from adidas to more popular Nike in one year. Secondly, Tyndall's fast-tempo style of play is attractive to recruits.

"It's an aggressive, attacking style of basketball," he said. "We full-court press on every made basket and dead ball. We get after people from end line to end line, then we fall back to an aggressive matchup zone. If you've seen Louisville play, our defensive philosophy is much like Louisville's."

Whereas Cuonzo Martin's defense was more geared toward forcing tough shots than forcing turnovers, Tyndall's defense is built around pressuring the foe into mistakes.

"We've been in the top 30 in Div. I basketball each of the last two years in steals," the new coach noted. "That's obviously because we're playing an aggressive defensive style."

When Tennessee has the ball Tyndall wants his team running the floor whenever possible.

"Offensively, we're going to push the basketball on misses and long rebounds," he said. "In the halfcourt we're going to run a high/low motion with a ton of ball screening, trying to give our guards the freedom to make plays. A Kansas-type team is how we play on the offensive end."

Selling prospects on a team that plays a Kansas-type offense and a Louisville-type defense sounds pretty simple. Tyndall thinks it will be.

"We have a great university to sell," he said. "When you look around at these facilities and all that we have at the University of Tennessee, we should be able to get the best players. We'll do everything in our power as a staff to make that happen."

Press conference, per the university

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