The difference? Calipari is targeting high school seniors who have to play one year of college ball before declaring for the NBA Draft. Barnes, conversely, is targeting college seniors who have one year of post-graduate eligibility remaining.
With Tennessee’s roster desperately needing impact players, Barnes appears to be honing in on several graduate transfers who already have proved themselves capable of playing college hoops at a high level. These include four players who would project to start from Day 1 on The Hill – Dylan Ennis, Anthony Collins, Mike Thorne and Mark Tollefson.
Ennis is a 6-foot-2 point guard who led Villanova to a top-five national ranking and a No. 1 seeding for the NCAA Tournament during the just-concluded 2014-15 season. He averaged 28 minutes, 9.9 points and 3.5 assists per game. Because he sat out a season after transferring from Rice to Villanova early in his career, he has one year of collegiate eligibility remaining. He does not intend to spend it at Villanova.
Ennis reportedly has narrowed his list of transfer options to Tennessee, Illinois, Purdue, Duke, Baylor, Oregon, Georgia Tech and LSU. Given his resume’ and the Vols’ lack of a scholarship point guard, Ennis undoubtedly would become a first-teamer the day he steps on the UT campus.
Collins is another point guard who could step in at Tennessee from Day One. The 6-foot-1, 175-pounder averaged 7.1 points, 2.6 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game last season at South Florida. A native of Houston, he knows about Barnes from his impressive stint as head man at the University of Texas.
Collins reportedly will choose from among Tennessee, Georgetown and Baylor.
Tennessee’s need for a big man is almost as severe as its need for a point guard. A guy who fits the mold is Mike Thorne, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound graduate transfer from the University of Charlotte who projects to take his degree in May with one season of eligibility remaining.
Thorne averaged 10.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 2014-15, shooting a solid 53.4 percent from the field. The big guy posted a season-high 23 points in a game against Penn State and a season-high 18 rebounds in a game against UNC-Asheville.
Thorne would almost certainly start for the Vols in 2015-16, giving rising sophomore posts Willie Carmichael and Jabari McGhee another year to develop their bodies and hone their skills to the high-major level.
Tennessee’s chances of landing Thorne are greatly enhanced by the fact Barnes’ staff includes Desmond Oliver, who was an aide at Charlotte last winter. Still, the competition could be stiff. Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh and Illinois also are taking long looks at Thorne.
Another graduate transfer who is getting attention from the Vols is Mark Tollefson, a 6-foot-9 forward from the University of San Francisco. He redshirted as a freshman with the Dons, meaning he’ll be a fifth-year senior in 2015-16. Choosing to play his final college season at the high-major level, he lists seven schools in the running for his services – Tennessee, San Diego State, California, Southern Cal, Washington, Arizona and Nevada.
Interestingly enough, Barnes’ recruitment of Tollefson involves going head to head with former Vol skipper Cuonzo Martin, now running the show at Cal.
Despite his height, Tollefson is more of a pick-and-pop 4 man who does much of his damage from the perimeter. He shot 53.5 percent from the field for the Dons in 2014-15, including 37.8 percent from 3. Only one Tennessee player posted a better percentage from beyond the arc last season, junior guard Devon Baulkman at 38.2.
Barnes’ interest in graduate transfers makes perfect sense. Most of the top Class of 2015 prospects were locked up in November, so the talent pool for the spring signing period is thin. Whereas high school signees will tie up scholarships for the next four years, grad transfers fill a plug-and-play role for one season, then their scholarship is available again. That will give Barnes a full year to build relationships and a full complement of scholarships to give in November of 2016.