Carmichael, Hoop Vols debut tonight

InsideTennessee is your best possible source for Vol hoops coverage. Check out this insightful story on an unheralded freshman who'll make his debut in tonight's exhibition opener:

Like Tobias Harris, Willie Carmichael is a 6-foot-8 power forward who signed with Tennessee’s basketball program out of high school.

Like Harris, Carmichael is unusually mature for his age.

Like Harris, Carmichael plays with a high motor and a high basketball IQ.

Like Harris, Carmichael projects to start for the Vols as a mere freshman.

That’s where the similarities end. Whereas Harris was a heralded five-star recruit who was projected to start from Day One, Carmichael is an unheralded sleeper whose ascension to first-team stunned everyone except head coach Donnie Tyndall and Carmichael himself.

“I’m not really surprised,” the player told InsideTennessee. “It seems like I fit his system real well right now. But things could change. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

Although he practiced with the first team all preseason, Carmichael is not scheduled to start tonight’s 7 o'clock exhibition opener against Pikeville (Kentucky) University. The post duties fall to sophomore Dominic Woodson (6-feet-10, 274 pounds) and junior Derek Reese (6-feet-8, 220). Carmichael will see plenty of action inside, however, along with fellow freshmen Tariq Owens (6-feet-10, 184) and Jabari McGhee (6-feet-8, 215).

Carmichael projects to start once the season begins but he's taking nothing for granted.

“Other guys are getting better, like Tariq,” Carmichael said. “Dom is losing weight and getting better. Jabari and Derek Reese are getting better, too.”

Still, Carmichael projects to play a lot this season, at center and power forward.

“Ideally, you'd like to play Willie about eight to 10 minutes a game and let him find his way until he grows into his role and his strength is what it needs to be,” Tyndall said. “Where it sits right now, with us having a very inexperienced team, Willie would start and probably play 22 to 25 minutes a night."

Whether Carmichael’s 6-foot-8, 205-pound frame can withstand 25 minutes of pounding at the high-major level remains to be seen. He is alarmingly thin, even though he has added 25 pounds since reporting for summer school at 180 pounds last June.

“He has attacked the weight room,” Tyndall said. “He's a guy that in 20 or 25 more pounds you're going to have a legit SEC starting power forward in Willie Carmichael.”

He may lack the heft to be “legit” but Carmichael certainly has the motor. Tennessee’s blue-collar fan base loves effort guys, and no one in recent Vol history gives more effort than Willie Carmichael.

“Willie has been fantastic for a freshman,” Tyndall said. “His competitiveness, his eagerness to try and practice the right way or work out the right way every day has been great.”

In a perfect world, Woodson will drop enough weight to assume the center job on a regular basis, freeing Carmichael to play power forward. That is Tyndall’s long-range hope.

“Whatever spot he wants me to play at,” Carmichael said with a shrug. “I just want to play. I could be the sixth man. I could be a bench player. I just want to win.”

After noting that his biggest adjustment to date has been to “Gain weight,” Carmichael admitted that he gets pushed around some in practice due to his lack of bulk. He’s doing all he can to fix the problem, though.

“You have to stay focused,” he said. “You can’t just stay in the weight room and say you’re going to gain weight. You have to eat the right things, make sure you eat enough protein and all that stuff.”

Carmichael has been skinny his whole life, yet he has been a superior rebounder his whole life. The key to offsetting his lack of heft is simple.

“Speed,” he said. “It’s speed over weight. It’s about quickness getting in front of the post because I probably can move faster than someone that’s 250 pounds.”

Originally from Apopka, Florida, Carmichael shot a sizzling 68.5 percent from the floor in averaging 24.7 points per game in the Rocky Top League last summer. Still, he’s somewhat green offensively. His defense and rebounding, conversely, are college ready. That has endeared him to Tyndall.

“He’s just a hardnosed coach,” Carmichael said. “He wants to win as much as we want to win. Plus, he cares for you, off the court and on the court.”

Carmichael’s length, tenacity and agility make him a great fit for the full-court press and drop-back zone defenses Tennessee utilizes. In addition, he could be a 10 rebounds-per-game guy someday.

“The way our zone is set up, if you box out your man you’re going to get a rebound,” he said. “When I was in high school, I was the only one down there to rebound. Now I’ve got three guards coming to rebound and another big. That’s a lot of help.”

Carmichael smiles when he talks about rebounding. Obviously, it is his favorite aspect of the game.

“I love to rebound,” he said, grinning again. “I love to compete.”

And – make no mistake – Donnie Tyndall has won a lot of games with guys who love to rebound and compete.

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