Fab Four Freshmen Bring A Lot of Game to K-Town

Tennessee Thunder made a lot of noise at the recently completed Junior Men's National Championship held in Jacksonville, Fla., and rumblings about UT's incoming freshmen class indicate they might raise the roof at Thompson-Boling in the not-too-distant future.

Despite being without the services of a couple of key players, the state's Junior Olympic representative finished second in the national tournament paced by UT signees Stanley Asumnu and Justin "Boomer" Herndon. The Thunder's success is even more impressive when factoring the absence of two other UT signees — guards C.J. Watson and John Winchester — who usually man the back court.

With Watson and Winchester back in Knoxville putting full-court pressure on English Comp, Asumnu and Herndon were taking some of the nation's top amateur basketball talent to school in the Sunshine State. Asumnu averaged 26.2 points and 9 rebounds in the five-game event, while Boomer Herndon scored 16 points and pulled down 12 rebounds per game. Shooting an astonishing 68 percent from the field in the tournament, Herndon earned the praise of former NBA and collegiate great Artis Gilmore who was in attendance, and owns the NBA record for field goal percentage.

Herndon, who dominated the Division II high school ranks in Tennessee, is being scrutinized to see how he'll perform against stiffer competition. He proved his worth by turning in his best game against his biggest competition. In the finals against the New Jersey Roadrunners, which featured a front line of 7-0 John Kelly (Penn State) at the post along with 6-foot-9 Paul Williams (Sienna) and 6-7 forward Dewitt Maxwell (Fairfield) at the forwards, Herndon more than held his own by hitting 9-of-13 from the field and pulling down 12 rebounds. Asumnu added 20 points, but the Thunder dropped the title contest 104-97. Tennessee reached the finals with a 121-104 victory over a team from Washington D.C. as Asumnu scored 24 in that semifinal match. In a second round match, Asumnu and Herndon teamed up for 53 points and 27 rebounds to rally the Thunder to a 92-90 victory. Asumnu contributed 27 points, 11 rebounds, Herndon added 26 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots.

Asumnu scored 33 and 28 points in two other tournament games.

"There is no doubt the tournament MVP award would have gone to Asumnu if we had pulled out the final victory," said Gary Herndon, Thunder head coach and Boomer's father. "Stanley has the ability to take over a game and he's done it for me two or three times. He handles the ball well, slashes well and finishes well. He shot 47 free throws in the five-game tournament. We played one team and the coach screams ‘it seems like every time we turn around No. 5 (Asumnu) is on the line.' The official of the tournament said: ‘he's attacking and your guys can't get out of the way fast enough.'"

Herndon and Asumnu will be back on hardwood when the Thunder compete in the Junior Olympics in Knoxville Aug. 1-7, and will be joined by teammates Watson and Winchester, who were both impressive as the Thunder took the state crown. "C.J. is a tremendous point guard," said Herndon. "He sees the floor extremely well, he's very quick off the dribble and kicking the ball out. He has the power and strength to move the ball to the open man at the last second, if necessary. He's very intelligent. He does not take the ball up in heavy traffic. He's very good at attack and back off so that he creates passing lanes for himself. He's a consummate point guard. Really he's great.

"As a matter of fact: C.J. is going to play this year (for UT). That's just my opinion. He can definitely get it done. He doesn't get rattled at all."

Herndon also spoke highly of Winchester, both in terms of his physical skills and the intangibles he brings to the floor.

"John Winchester is a different kid," Herndon said. "He's a very good shooter, he can score. But John Winchester is flat out a leader. Nobody relaxes in practice, he pushes himself and other players all the time. He's very vocal, not negatively but very vocal in a positive sense. On our team we have some unsigned players and he won't let them rest. He pushes them to be the best they can be. Of course, that's a tremendous asset. He brings a lot of energy to the floor and positive vocalization. He's got the right kind of emotion. He's well liked by the team.

"He's a good defensive player and a great long-range shooter. He's solid anywhere inside probably 26 feet — NBA range without question. He can get himself open off the dribble. He jumps very, very well."

Leaping ability is something this incoming group of frosh has in abundance and they've drawn a lot of attention in AAU competition.

"All of these guys blow people away with their jumping ability," Herndon said. "We were scrimmaging a team and C.J. took the ball up and it looked like he was going to shoot a lay-up, and he threw it down extremely hard.

"Stanley's jumping ability is remarkable to say the least. I've seen Stanley get up so high it's almost scary. We play international rules and run inbounds plays for him where you can throw over the backboards, and he'll just catch it and flush it. He had a dunk in Memphis where he went down in the middle in traffic on a follow up and he basically had to duck to keep his head from hitting the rim. If Marcus (Haislip) had a 40-inch vertical, Stanley has at least 50."

Herndon wouldn't be surprised to see this signing class have an early and significant impact at Tennessee.

"I think obviously Tennessee is having difficulty at the guard position and they're adding three solid guards," he said. "They'll get their minutes their freshman year and it could end up that one or two of them are starting. I'm convinced all four of these kids believe they belong at the SEC level and they'll get it done. No doubt in my mind."

In addition to the athletic gifts and basketball skills these freshmen will add to Tennessee's arsenal, Herndon also believes they will help infuse the team with an attitude that is a direct reflection of their head coach — Buzz Peterson.

"The thing that impresses me most about these four freshmen, my son included, all have tremendous character," he said. "They want to be part of something bigger than themselves and I believe that's a direct correlation to the fact they want to play for Buzz. They have a tremendous respect for him. Without a doubt, he went out and looked for this type of kid."

With Watson and Winchester back in the fold, Herndon only needs some help in the post to be a title contender at the Junior Olympic competition held in Knoxville.

"Our power forward, Adam Brock from Page High School, broke both bones in his leg playing down in Florida. We're very strong, but we need another post player."

The Thunder could also use some additional funding to help defray some of the financial burden of competing against top-flight AAU team backed by corporate sponsors.

"We are not funded in anyway," said Herndon. "We need financial support. It's a nonprofit organization, none of it goes directly to any player. Any overage we have will go back to the Tennessee Thunder youth basketball program. We're hoping to get enough to get uniforms. We're playing with borrowed uniforms right now."

Donations can be sent to:

Tennessee Thunder
Junior Olympic Team
c/o Mike Williams (Pres.)
525 Danley Court
Antioch, TN 37013

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