"I always wanted to be a Vol," Eric McKnight told InsideTennessee shortly after casting his lot with the Big Orange on Monday afternoon. "A lot of schools called but I just went where I always kind of wanted to go."
McKnight is a 6-foot-9, 210-pound post-graduate transfer from Florida Gulf Coast University who will be eligible to represent the Vols in 2014-15. Although he grew up in North Carolina, he found himself drawn to the Big Orange while attending high school at Princeton Day Academy in Raleigh.
"I've been a Tennessee fan since Chris Lofton was there and they had that amazing year," he said, referring to the 2007-08 season, when the Vols went 31-5 and enjoyed a brief reign atop the national rankings. "I liked Tennessee, knowing they had a lot of athletes, and that was the year they made it to No. 1."
Another reason Tennessee won his commitment is the fact Florida Gulf Coast assistant Marty Richter had good things to say about new Tennessee head man Donnie Tyndall.
"Marty Richter, one of my coaches at Florida Gulf Coast, has been friends with Coach Tyndall for a long time," McKnight told InsideTennessee. "He told me he's a good guy."
McKnight was so impressed upon talking with Tyndall that he committed without visiting the campus.
"I think he's a great guy, a great coach who is known for working with big men," the player said. "I'm eager to learn from him this summer and next year."
Even without seeing Pratt Pavilion, Tennessee's state-of-the-art practice facility, McKnight suggests it played a role in his commitment to the Vols, as well.
"I haven't gotten a chance to see it," he said, "but I'm pretty sure it's amazing."
McKnight, who expects to sign scholarship papers this weekend, should upgrade the Vols' talent, depth, energy and experience levels. He can play both the 5 (post) and 4 (power forward).
"I would describe myself as a very passionate player, high energy," he said. "I'm a little bit of a facilitator sometimes. I think I'm a tweener – a 5 man in a 4-man's body – but I can be very versatile."
McKnight averaged 11.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per game as a high school senior, then began his college career at Iowa State. Following a disappointing freshman season, he transferred to Florida Gulf Coast. After sitting out a transfer year, he averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game as a redshirt sophomore in 2012-13. He improved those numbers to 6.9 points and 5.1 rebounds as a redshirt junior in 2013-14, despite missing 12 games due to a disciplinary suspension.
Asked if he had any comment about the suspension, McKnight replied: "No. It was just a team violation."
McKnight's best attributes are his shot-blocking and his field-goal efficiency. He swatted 47 shots in 34 games as a FGCU sophomore, then added 25 in 23 games as a junior. His two-year stay in Florida showed 72 blocks in 57 games. He made 60.2 percent of his field-goal attempts as a sophomore and a school record 66.3 percent as a junior. Part of his efficiency can be traced to a fondness for dunks. He posted 38 of them as a sophomore and 24 as a junior.
In addition to Tennessee, he was recruited by Wichita State, Boston College, Memphis and Rutgers in recent weeks. A planned visit to Wichita State, which posted an undefeated regular season in 2013-14 and was a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, "didn't go through," he said.
McKnight is the fourth addition to the Big Orange roster under Tyndall. Previously signed were 6-foot-8 prep-school forward Jabari McGhee (Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia), 6-foot-4 junior college All-American Kevin Punter (State Fair Community College in Missouri) and 6-foot-3 prep school guard Detrick Mostella.
The addition of McKnight helps offset the departure of five "bigs" the Vols have lost in recent weeks. Six-foot-8 Jeronne Maymon has exhausted his eligibility; 6-foot-8 Jarnell Stokes picked the NBA Draft over his remaining eligibility; 6-foot-10 rising sophomore A.J. Davis decided to transfer; 6-foot-8 CJ Turman (Madison, Ga.) and 6-foot-8 Phil Cofer (Fayetteville, Ga.) are headed to Florida Atlantic and Florida State, respectively, after securing releases from the UT scholarships they signed last November.