Okay, there’s no way to spin this one. Shortly after Tennessee basketball forward E.J. Anosike entered the transfer portal and Davonte Gaines revealed on Twitter that the George Mason Patriots would be his transfer destination, a fourth UT player jumped into the portal.
Corey Walker Jr., a four-star forward in the 2020 recruiting class, joined Anosike in the portal, according to Grant Ramey of GoVols247. A 6’8″ 219-pound wing who could have played the three or the four, Walker redshirted this past year.
With Walker’s departure, Tennessee basketball loses everybody from its 2020 recruiting class. The Vols have lost seven players overall the past two weeks. Walker and Anosike are in the portal, Gaines and Drew Pember have transferred elsewhere, with Pember joining the UNC Asheville Bulldogs, which he revealed on Twitter Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Jaden Springer announced he was leaving for the pros on March 29, Keon Johnson announced he was leaving on Wednesday, and Yves Pons, a senior, wasn’t expected to return anyway. Pons thanked Vol Nation on his Instagram and Twitter accounts Friday.
Of all those losses, however, Walker is the only one that is unexpected and concerning. Right now, the Vols don’t have a lot of depth in the front court, and a guy with Walker’s versatility who could provide depth at the three or four would have been a huge help.
If Anosike had stayed, this wouldn’t be a problem. The Vols are set in the backcourt with five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler and transfer sharpshooter Justin Powell joining Santiago Vescovi, Josiah-Jordan James and Victor Bailey Jr.
However, the backup wing spot was open, and Walker would have been able to battle four-star Jahmai Mashack for that role, as was the four spot with Pons gone. Now, it’s imperative for Mashack to settle into that role on the wing or for Quinten Diboundje Eyobo, a three-star guard in the 2021 class, to emerge. If not, the Vols will be thin there.
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Beyond the wing, Barnes now only has Olivier Nkamoua returning at the four and Uros Plavsic back at the five. John Fulkerson could potentially return, but that leaves only three players at the four and five spots. Barnes desperately needs help in the post at this point.
If Fulkerson doesn’t come back, then the Vols will need to add a graduate transfer center and power forward. As we wrote earlier in the day regarding the transfer of Anosike, Furman Paladins 6’8″ 210-pound transfer forward Noah Gurley has UT in his top eight and will announce on Sunday. His arrival could help in a big way.
Still, even if he does arrive, Rocky Top now needs either Fulkerson to stay or for a transfer center to join them. North Carolina Tar Heels transfer center Walker Kessler would obviously be hitting the lottery on that front, but if he doesn’t head to Knoxville, Rick Barnes will have to look somewhere else.
Simply put, Tennessee basketball can’t afford to be as thin as it is right now in the front court. Walker’s departure leaves a gaping hole, and there was already a void at the five that needed to be filled. Barnes will have to spend the next few weeks working on that.