Punter raves about Vol visit

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Even before he boarded the plane back to Sedalia, Mo., Sunday afternoon, Kevin Punter was flying high. His visit with Tennessee's new basketball staff was that enjoyable.

"Oh, man!" he told InsideTennessee. "It went well. I enjoyed everything about it."

Asked what about the visit stood out most, he paused briefly, then replied: "Nothing in particular. Everything about the school was great – the academics, the resources, the sports of course, the coaching staff, the atmosphere, the people around town."

Punter even renewed an old acquaintance during his stay in Knoxville. That would be Tennessee's 6-foot-10 rising senior center, Rawane Ndiaye.

"I know Pops from prep school … even before that, actually," Hunter said. "And I met (rising sophomore guard Robert) Hubbs."

Punter said he did not commit during his visit but that the Vols are one of two finalists for his services.

"Oh, man, I'm down to two schools now – Tennessee and Mizzou," he said. "I'd never seen Tennessee before, and it was great."

After meeting with new Missouri head man Kim Anderson on Monday, he plans to announce his college choice shortly thereafter.

"I expect to make a decision Tuesday or before," Punter said.

The 6-foot-4, 170-pound guard knows exactly what he's looking for in a program.

"I want somewhere I can get a strong degree," he said. "When basketball is all said and done, if you don't have a degree that means something it's a struggle. I also want a strong connection with a coach who can make me better and a place where I can have immediate impact."

Punter could have an immediate impact at Tennessee, which must replace the 18.7 points per game that shooting guard Jordan McRae averaged last season in leading the Vols to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16.

Punter's stats suggest he's capable of being a similarly explosive perimeter scorer. He made first-team Junior College All-America in 2013-14 for State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Mo., averaging 20.3 points per game in leading his team to a 26-7 record and the national tournament's Sweet 16. He shot 57.1 percent from the field, 37.1 percent from 3-point range and 82.7 percent from the foul line.

"Kevin's a very efficient offensive player," State Fair assistant Josh Sash told InsideTennessee. "There were nights when he wouldn't get that many shots but you'd look up and he'd have 24, 26, 28 points."

Whereas some junior-college players struggle with the step up to major-college ball, Punter appears ready to make the transition smoothly. He has played with and against some outstanding backcourt players. He was part of a three-guard lineup in 2013-14 that also featured Florida State commitment Kedar Edwards and Joe Thomasson, who committed to Oklahoma State but wound up signing with Wright State.

"We had three guards who kind of fed off each other," Sash said. "Some nights it would be Kevin to take the (clutch) shot. Another night it would be Joe Thomasson. Another time it would Kedar Edwards. I would take those three over any three guys anybody (in JUCO basketball) had in the backcourt this year."

One year ago Punter shared a State Fair backcourt with Kenny Chery, who went on to become Baylor's starting point guard in 2013-14.

"Kevin learned a lot about work ethic from Kenny," Sash said. "He's in the gym every day when I come through, working on pull-up shots, 3s and finishing around the rim. He's always working on his skills."

The improved dedication in practice resulted in improved performance in games.

"As a freshman Kevin started every game and made honorable mention all-region but was not one of the top 10 players in our region," Sash said. "He really worked hard last summer and fall. You could see he'd taken steps to take his game to another level. He was first-team Junior College All-America and Region 16 Player of the Year, a really big-time contributor."

After State Fair limped to a 10-6 start Punter helped spark a spectacular late-season run.

"We played West Plains in our second region game and he went for 32 or 34 points, helped us get a win in double overtime," Sash recalled. "That seemed to be a springboard for our season. We won our last 16 games before losing in the Sweet 16 round of the national tournament."

Although he shot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc in 2013-14, Punter may be most dangerous in the 10- to 15-foot range.

"Probably the most lethal part of his game is his mid-range game," Sash said. "He can make all the shots. He can go up in the mid-range and make contested shots. He was inconsistent at times from 3 as a freshman but he's gained consistency. He's gained some strength in spite of a slight build. He finishes at the rim with contact. He's a tough kid. He also shoots well from the free-throw line."

In addition to helping Tennessee's perimeter scoring, Punter could help its team chemistry.

"He's a high-character kid," Sash said. "He comes from a really nice family."

Though easy-going off the court, Punter plays with tremendous intensity on it.

"He was a little under-recruited coming out of high school and prep school," Sash said. "He has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder."

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