“He’s a pest on defense,” Tennessee teammate Josh Richardson said, flashing a pained grin. “I think that can be a great trait for him. From just putting pressure on the ball and anticipating passing lanes, he’s got really good instincts on defense.”
Bonds’ defensive abilities make him an ideal fit for first-year Vol coach Donnie Tyndall’s full-court press and zone schemes. That’s not terribly surprising, since Bonds played virtually identical schemes back at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville.
CPA coach Drew Maddox concedes as much, noting: “Stylistically, trying to scramble the game up, get a lot of deflections, make people get vertical and play outside of their comfort zone is exactly what Coach Tyndall tries to present at the college level.”
And no one at CPA could “scramble the game up” better than Braxton Bonds, a 6-foot-1, 170-pound point guard.
“Braxton is an outstanding defender,” Maddox said. “He’s long, he has tremendous athleticism, he has great foot speed, he anticipates well. He just has an uncanny knack to get his hands on the basketball and get deflections, disrupt the offensive flow, so I think he’ll fit in well with how Coach Tyndall tries to scramble the game up.”
Bonds thinks so, too.
“I’m a pest on defense. I get my hands on the ball. I’ve got long arms and I’m very passionate about what I do,” he said, adding that Maddox’ system and Tyndall’s system are “very similar. At CPA we played zone, and we play zone here, too. It’s like a matchup zone where we like to get into people and trap ‘em and pressure the ball. Offensively, all we did at CPA was run, and Coach Tyndall wants us to play a fast style of basketball, so I’m very used to it.”
The fact Bonds plays point guard and the Vols don’t have a true point guard on their roster would make this a marriage made in Heaven except for one detail: Bonds may not be eligible this season. He signed with Liberty University last November and attended one week of classes in June before getting (a) homesick and (b) a release from his scholarship. NCAA rules say he must sit out a transfer season before suiting up for Tennessee but the Vols have filed a waiver seeking an exemption.
“I’m very hopeful,” Bonds said. “I don’t know how the waiver stuff is going but if it goes well, then I can see myself playing a little bit, as long as I continue working.”
Even if his appeal is denied, he’s glad he left Liberty and enrolled at Tennessee.
“I would be so happy just to be here as a student,” he said. “I love the game of basketball and I would’ve definitely missed it but being close to home and being next to my mom would’ve been just fine to me.”
Bonds actually enrolled in Tennessee before having any contact with the coaching staff. He and his mom visited the head man’s office to see if Braxton would be allowed to try out for a walk-on spot. With senior walk-on Brandon Lopez sidelined by a torn ACL and Tennessee desperate for a point guard, Tyndall quickly agreed.
“It’s been a blessing,” Bonds said. “It was sad to see Brandon get injured, especially his senior year because I know he was working so hard and was supposed to get a lot of minutes and possibly even start. I guess God just has a different plan for him. Hopefully, I can fill in his minutes.”
Bonds, who describes himself as “a pass-first point guard,” averaged 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and 3.5 steals per game as a senior at CPA last winter.
“If I get to the lane I’ll score,” he said, “but most of the time I want to get my teammates involved.”
His jump shot needs work but that isn’t a major concern.
“We have great, great scorers on this Tennessee basketball team, so I don’t need to score that much,” he said. “I just want to get them in positions to where they can score. That’s pretty much my job – be vocal, tell people where they need to be, then get ‘em the ball and let them go play.”
He has done that job so well in early practices that Bonds will make impact as a true freshman if his waiver is approved.
“I’m telling you: If he is eligible he is going to play on our team,” Tyndall said. “He is. I’m hoping we will have an answer in the next two to four weeks. He is a tough, hard-nosed kid. He has a great feel for the game and he is competitive. It doesn't matter if it’s Kevin Punter or Josh Richardson; if they are guarding him or he is guarding them, he goes right at them.”
“Yes,” Braxton said. “Most of them are like ‘That’s really cool.’ Then you’ve got some kids who want to ask if he takes steroids. I say ‘Would your uncle tell you if he took steroids?’ I wouldn’t know that. I don’t know if he did but he’s my uncle, so I love him regardless.”
Likewise, Tennessee fans are going to love Braxton Bonds. Whether he debuts this season or next, he has the tools to be a quality college point guard.
“I think he has a high ceiling,” said Maddox, who played college basketball for Vanderbilt. “I think he’ll continue to improve, he’ll continue to work, he’ll continue to do whatever the coaches ask him to do.
“Ultimately, at the end of it all, he’ll go down as having an outstanding college career.”
Highlights: Vols back at Pratt