Tyndall eyes JUCO point guards

InsideTennessee is your best source for quality coverage of Vol hoops. Check out this story on some junior-college point guards who appear to be on Tennessee's radar:

Kentucky coach John Calipari builds his basketball teams around one-and-dones. Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall builds his teams around two-and-throughs.

Calipari essentially can sign any high schooler he wants, so he routinely fills his roster with McDonald’s All-Americans – most of whom hope to bolt for the NBA after one year of college.

Tyndall struggled to sign the high schoolers he wanted at mid-majors Morehead State and Southern Miss, so he filled his roster with junior college players – most of whom had just two years of eligibility.

Clearly, Calipari’s system works. His cast of one-and-done types advanced to three Final Fours in the past four years with another appearance likely this season.

Tyndall’s system works, too, though to a lesser extent. His JUCO-driven teams recorded 24- and 25-win seasons at lowly Morehead State, then posted 27- and 29-win seasons at Southern Miss. Thus, it isn’t surprising that the Vols’ head man is turning to what worked for him in the past – scouring the junior college ranks for plug-and-play guys.

With the Vols desperate for help at point guard, here’s a look at some JUCO players believed to be on Tennessee’s radar:

Benji Bell, 6-foot-4 combo guard, Northwest Florida State: His numbers are impressive — 16.2 points, 5.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game. He’s shooting 49.6 percent from the field and 47.0 percent from 3. His 2.9 turnovers per game and 68.7 free-throw percentage are minor concerns. He hit 7 of 10 shots (3 of 3 from 3) en route to 26 points and 7 assists in a Feb. 14 game against Pensacola State.

Malique Trent, 6-foot-2 combo guard, New Mexico Community College: This hot-shooting backcourt star averages 16.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, connecting on 45.5 percent from the field, 39.9 from 3 and 69.2 from the foul line. He posted back-to-back games of 24 points (Feb. 5 against Western Texas) and 29 points (Feb. 9 against South Plains) earlier this month. He was 8 of 15 from the field and 5 of 10 from 3 in the former, 9 of 21 from the field and 6 of 12 from 3 in the latter. Trent redshirted in 2013-14 and has three seasons of collegiate eligibility remaining.

Shawn Smith, 6-foot-4 combo guard, Lee College (Texas): He’s shooting 42.6 percent from the field and a sizzling 40.6 percent from 3 en route to averaging 15.7 points per game. He records 4.6 assists per game but also 3.6 turnovers per contest. In a Feb. 7 game against Angelina College he hit 9 of 13 shots, including 3 of 4 from 3 in scoring 26 points. However, he posted just one assist and seven turnovers in that game. Over his past three outings he has recorded more turnovers (14) than assists (10).

Brandon Brown, 5-foot-10 point guard, Phoenix College: This explosive young man ranks seventh among all NJCAA Div. II scorers at 24.0 points per game. He also checks in at 5.9 assists, 2.6 turnovers and 32.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting 45.8 percent from the field, 40.9 percent from 3 and 79.8 percent from the foul line. Brown's last two outings saw him post a 32-point, 7-assist performance Feb. 21 against Scottsdale Community College and a 36-point, 7-assist outing against Cochise College on Feb. 18. He had a nine-assist, zero-turnover game Feb. 14 against Tohono O’odham. A model of consistency, Brown averaged 20.1 points, 6.1 assists and 2.4 turnovers per game in 2013-14.

Rob Gray, 6-foot-2 point guard, Howard College (Texas): He’s averaging 17.6 points per game but his modest assist total (2.5 per game) is bit of a concern. He scored 21 points in each of his past three games, hitting a combined 22 of 39 shots from the field. Only a freshman, he has three seasons of eligibility remaining. Tennessee assistant coach Al Pinkins has been on Gray, who spent time at West Oaks Academy in Orlando after playing his prep hoops in Forest City, North Carolina. Gray could very well be the No. 1 target of the Vols staff.

Jonathan Burroughs-Cook, 6-foot-2 combo guard, Southwest Tennessee: This Memphis native burned Mississippi Delta Community College for 30 points on Jan. 29, hitting 12 of 17 field goals, including 4 of 5 from 3. He averages 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. He’s shooting a solid 46.0 percent from the field, a so-so 33.3 percent from 3 and 66.7 percent from the foul line for a SWTCC team that stands 21-3.

After showing considerable interest last fall, Tennessee has backed off of 5-foot-10 Motlow State point guard Dequon Miller, who is averaging 19.2 points, 9.0 assists, 6.0 rebounds and 2.7 turnovers per game this season. Miller is hitting 45.1 percent from the field, 39.5 percent from 3 and 73.0 percent from the foul line. Motlow head coach Matthew Sligh told IT that Vol coaches “decided to go in another direction.”

NEXT UP: A look at JUCO post prospects

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