'Relentless athleticism'

InsideTennessee gives you the best coverage there is of Vol basketball. Sign in or sign up to read this in-depth profile of an intriguing signee:

Tennessee basketball fans tend to embrace players such as JaJuan Smith and Armani Moore who go all out all the time. That's why they're sure to love new signee Willie Carmichael. He absolutely will not be out-hustled.

"He has an incredibly high motor," Scott Williams, Carmichael's head coach at Wekiva High in Apopka, Fla., told InsideTennessee. "A lot of big kids are forced into basketball because of their size but Willie has a genuine passion for the game, and his work ethic is off the charts.

"He has relentless athleticism. He'll be flying around the gym. I think Tennessee fans will immediately be drawn to his effort and passion."

Carmichael, a 6-foot-8, 200-pounder, credits his all-out work ethic to the late start he got playing the game.

"When I was coming into high school I was behind talent-wise because I just started playing basketball in the ninth grade," he said. "I had to outwork everyone to keep up but I love to work hard."

Because of his belated beginning on the hardwood, Carmichael is just now scratching his potential.

"He's still learning to play," Williams said. "He can face up and shoot from outside. His ball-handling is adequate. The area of improvement for him is the continued evolution offensively from the ball-handling and skill-work standpoints. He spends a lot of time in the gym. That's something you don't see all the time from big guys."

Although Carmichael's game is still maturing, fans should not get the idea that he is one of those guys who must rely on maximum effort to overcome marginal skills. He's long on talent, as well as energy.

"The fact he is a really good athlete makes him that much more successful," Williams said. "He runs the floor well, has good hands and feet, and he really competes."

Carmichael's combination of length, hustle and athleticism makes him an ideal fit for the three-quarter-court press that new Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall employs. That's why Tyndall signed him for Southern Miss last November, then re-signed him for the Vols last week.

"Coach Tyndall and his staff believe very strongly that Willie's skill set is going to be great for the way they play," Williams said. "They wouldn't have recruited him for so long if they didn't believe his skill set is a really good fit, especially once they bulk him up."

Carmichael was excited to sign with Tyndall at USM last November and even more excited to sign with him at Tennessee this week.

"Coach Tyndall was one of the first coaches who recruited me on the AAU circuit," the player recalled. "I was overlooked by a lot of coaches because I made the decision to stick by my AAU teammates, even though we didn't have a great team. And I like Coach Tyndall because he works every day to get better."

Shortly after Tyndall left Southern Miss to take the Vol reins on April 22, Carmichael secured a release from his USM letter of intent and re-opened his recruitment. He quickly found himself in high demand.

"Thirty schools called after I got a release from Southern Miss," he said. "It was like a call every five minutes. But I was waiting on a call from Coach Tyndall."

Once that call arrived, Carmichael committed to be a Vol shortly thereafter.

"Southern Miss is a great school but nothing to compare to Tennessee," he said. "It's crazy how excited the fans are about sports."

After averaging 11.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game as a high school junior, Carmichael improved to 13.6 points and 8.9 rebounds as a senior. He led Wekiva to a 25-5 record and a lengthy stint as the top-ranked team in 7A, Florida's second-largest classification.

"His best game was 25 points and 15 rebounds versus a talented Windermere Prep team that had a talented 6-11 junior, Daouda Ndiaye," Williams said. "Willie dominated that game."

Obviously, Carmichael's wiry frame could be a disadvantage when he goes against 250-pound SEC centers and power forwards. Some added bulk should make him an even more effective inside player.

"He has a lot of untapped potential," Williams said. "Tennessee will quickly be able to put 15 to 20 pounds on him, remake his body, and that will help him be successful."

Carmichael's chances of being successful appear pretty good. He tends to achieve every goal he sets. Earlier this spring he set a goal of competing as a 6-foot-8 sprinter for the Wekiva High track team. Mission accomplished.

"He had never run track," Williams said, "yet this year he was part of a 4x400 relay team that placed seventh in the state."

Carmichael said his decision to run track this spring was easily explained.

"I always look for advantage to stay ahead of the game," he said. "I knew I'd be better conditioned for basketball than the other guys if I ran track."

Carmichael's agility serves him even better on the basketball floor than on the track. He is exceptionally versatile, capable of playing on the inside or on the perimeter.

"He made a few 3s for us," Williams said. "We don't lock our post players down near the basket; we get them involved in some things out on the floor. His role for us was as a post, not a 3 (small forward) or 4 (power forward), but he has the ability to face up and play the high post. He can put the ball on the deck. He can shoot it outside the arc; it just wasn't something we needed from him."

Actually, Wekiva High didn't need a lot of scoring from him inside or outside. The Mustangs had plenty of other options.

"We were ranked No.1 in the state most of the year," Williams noted. "We had five guys sign scholarships at the end of the year."

Whereas Carmichael is solid on offense, he is a horse on the backboards and a terror on defense.

"His defense is really, really good," Williams said. "He's long-armed and rangy, with speed that allows him to be great when you trap and rotate. He has a really high basketball IQ and he's versatile. All freshmen going into the SEC have an adjustment but I know Willie will be able to guard a 3 man on the outside, guard a 4 or 5 inside."

Carmichael grew accustomed to winning at Wekiva High, and he plans to continue doing so, even though Tennessee will have almost an entirely new roster in 2014-15.

"I want to work hard, motivate my teammates and make it to The Dance," he said. "No matter which position or role I play, I just want to help my team make The Dance."

Whether he leads Tennessee to the NCAA Tournament or not, Carmichael projects to be an asset for the Vol program, on the court and off.

"He's a really special young man – athletically, academically and socially," Williams said. "I couldn't be prouder of the young man that he's got these kind of open doors."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories