'I think we may surprise some people'

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Basketball recruiting in the Spring Signing Period is kind of like shopping the mall at 7 p.m. on Black Friday: Most of the quality merchandise is long gone.

With just four holdovers from 2013-14 guaranteed to return, however, Tennessee's new coaching staff is facing the distinct possibility of adding nine players this spring in order to reach the NCAA roster maximum of 13. Essentially, the Vols are looking to sign over the next few weeks the same number of players teams typically sign over a span of two years.

Mission impossible? Apparently not. Donnie Tyndall's staffers are confident they can reel in enough quality talent this spring to field a respectable team come November.

"There's still a lot of time left in this recruiting process," assistant coach Adam Howard told InsideTennessee. "I think we may surprise some people with what we're able to pull off late."

Actually, the new staffers already managed to "surprise some people" by signing three players in the past week -- prep school forward Jabari McGhee last Friday, first-team Junior College All-America shooting guard Kevin Punter on Monday, then adding former Scout top-100 player Detrick Mostella, a dynamic shooting guard.

In addition to junior college and prep-school players, Tennessee is evaluating a dozen or so unsigned high school prospects and several of the 400-plus transfers shopping for new homes due to coaching changes, etc. The pool of prospects is enormous, so sifting through them to determine which ones best fit the Vols' immediate needs is an imposing challenge.

"We network all day every day and keep an ear to the ground," said assistant Chris Shumate, who coached six years at Cincinnati before joining Tyndall's Southern Miss staff in 2013-14. "Maybe a guy that was going to go here is not going to go there. So, who do you know? It's a big network, and we're exhausting every lead we possibly can."

Al Pinkins, who joins Tennessee after assisting eight years at Middle Tennessee and the past three at Ole Miss, says two things about Tyndall make recruiting for him a little less challenging. The first is the head man's work ethic.

"He's a relentless guy, especially in recruiting," Pinkins said. "He's a really detailed, organized guy. What we're trying to do right now is beating the pavement to figure out how to recruit well enough to put a really good product on the floor this year."

Another plus in recruiting for Tyndall is the fact he took Morehead State to the NCAA Tournament twice and guided Southern Miss to a 56-17 record the past two years.

"It makes it easier that he's a guy that's won at some tough places," Pinkins said. "He's a guy that's gone to the (NCAA) Tournament and won games in the Tournament. It makes it easier. Is it super easy? No. Recruiting is hard work but I think we're putting ourselves in position to get some really good kids that can help us right away."

A co-worker echoed the idea that Tyndall's status as a proven winner is a positive on the recruiting trail.

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"I think it helps a lot," said Howard, who assisted Tyndall the past four years at Morehead State and Southern Miss. "The jobs he's won at, Morehead State and Southern Miss, are both great programs but I don't think either is one of the top two jobs in those leagues. Now you're walking into a situation where Tennessee's not going to take a backseat to anybody – facility-wise or campus-wise. It helps a lot. It's paid dividends with a couple of these guys we've been able to get already."

In addition to the three players already added, Tennessee is in the running for probably two dozen other unsigned prospects. That's a credit to this staff's tireless work ethic.

"We're exhausting every hour of every day," Shumate said, "trying to turn over the right stones in trying to piece our roster together with guys that fit the mold of how we want to do things."

With so many transfers looking for new homes, Tennessee's staffers believe they can assemble enough talent in the coming weeks to put a representative team on the floor in 2014-15.

"There's still plenty of good players out there that can help," Howard said. "We just try to identify the guys who can come in and fit what you need them to do in Year 1."

That sounds simple enough but 350 other Div. 1 programs also are looking to improve themselves this offseason. Most of them need only to fill one or two holes, whereas Tennessee may have to fill nine. Clearly, the Vols' recruiting challenge is going to be a taxing one.

"Sleeping in gas stations, staying in hotels, flying out spur of the moment is part of it," Pinkins said. "Obviously, we love it or we wouldn't be here doing it."

Adam Howard video interview

Al Pinkins video interview

Chris Shumate video interview

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