Ray Kasongo got his first taste of life in the SEC Monday against a guy who doesn’t even play college basketball anymore.
Wayne Chism suited up for Tennessee from 2006-10 and helped lead the Vols to their first Elite 8 appearance in school history. Now he patrols the paint for DeRoyal Industries in the Pilot Rocky Top League, and Kasongo’s first appearance saw him match up with Chism, who still looks like he could go out and play at the Division I level.
After their first battle inside, Chism offered up some encouraging words about the former junior college star.
"He's pretty good,” Chism said. “His body's nice. He's going to be a great fit on the inside."
Kasongo finished the game 5-12 from the field for 13 points and a couple of nice dunks, a solid showcase in his first real basketball action in Knoxville.
“I thought it went pretty good,” Kasongo said of his initial appearance. “It opened my eyes, especially when I went out there with all the guys.”
There’s still plenty of room to improve and he knows it. The 6-10, 235-pound power forward wants to develop a consistent jumper to have an impact in the SEC and says he needs to be able to knock down the occasional three to keep defenses honest. The one thing he won’t have to improve is his physicality, which he showed by banging around inside with the talented Chism, who challenged him on more than one occasion.
“The guys down here are just a lot more physical. In Canada, like, we have a lot more finesse type of players. Down here it’s just really physical,” Kasongo said. “Since I started playing I’ve always been physical. That’s one of my strong suits. I feel good physically.”
The Rocky Top League is great for letting the fans see that physicality in person. It’s also a fantastic way to get in scrimmage work and try out different shots. It can even be a nice confidence boost for the guy who gets hot at the right time and drops 40 or so points in one night. But Kasongo isn’t looking for it to dramatically transform his game or mold him into an SEC superstar. He said he’s simply trying to have some fun, show the fans his talent and work on the areas he needs to improve on before the fall.
“It’s more of a fun type of thing, just playing in front of the fans, showing the fans my type of game,” he said. “Overall, I think it’s a good thing to show the fans what we’re capable of.”
Rick Barnes and his staff recruited Kasongo when they were at Texas and continued to do so once they made the move to Tennessee. That loyalty combined with the feeling of newness surrounding the basketball program right now has Kasongo looking for more than just a fresh start when the real season begins.
“To be honest, I feel like coming in with a new coaching staff, new players, I feel like we’ll be pretty good,” he said. “Like I said earlier, coach Barnes is a veteran. He’s been doing this for a long, long time, so I feel like having him is a big bonus.”