Four new Vols played in front of Knoxville fans for the first time Monday evening as the Rocky Top League kicked off its 11th season of basketball.
Redshirt freshman Jalen Johnson played in the evening's first game for DeRoyal Industries. A six-foot-five guard from North Carolina, Johnson notched seven points in his summer league debut.
Johnson added nearly thirty pounds to his frame in the offseason, giving him a 195-pound frame on a good day. He said he's nervous for his first season of playing for the Vols.
"It was kind of challenging," Johnson said of his redshirt season. "You want to be out there with the team when you see your teammates doing well, having fun and competing every night. You've really got to self-motivate and go hard."
Johnson said Coach Rick Barnes wants him to work on his rebounding this summer and develop into a consistent, two-way player. Johnson said he has the tendency to try to do too much on the offensive side of the ball. He said ideally he'd like to assume the spot left vacant by graduated senior Robert Hubbs III.
"That'd be nice," Johnson said. "I'm just trying to take it day by day, though. Not trying to make any promises or anything like that. Just working on myself every day."
Freshman Zach Kent, a six-foot-ten forward, made his debut alongside teammate Grant Williams for Rick Buick GMC.
Kent, whose teammates have affectionately given him the nickname "Clark" (which is also his father's name), put up nine points, including one three-pointer. He will be the first player from Delaware to suit up for Tennessee.
A reporter asked Kent what his impressions of SEC basketball were, with his being from Delaware.
"Being from Delaware, we have TV's," Kent said with a laugh. "We see it just like everyone else. I haven't seen it firsthand. But I knew it was going to be fast, I knew it was going to be athletic, and I'm ready."
Kent said the training regimen Coach Barnes and the staff have put him under is very challenging compared to high school, but he'd get it done.
"I've enjoyed getting into a rhythm," Kent said. "In the summer, it's a good time to get into a rhythm early before it picks up. You're already comfortable with everything going on around you."
Kent said he still needs to get stronger and quicker before the Vols' season tips off.
"I like to describe myself as a Swiss Army knife," Kent said. "At this level, I'm dull. Right now, I need to sharpen all my tools by getting in shape, getting stronger, getting comfortable around all my players and getting comfortable with the chemistry and getting comfortable on the court at this level."
Junior college transfer Chris Darrington, a junior, put up 26 points in his debut for Tillman Companies. After averaging more than 20 points per game at Vincennes University, the Toledo native said he's hungry for more success at the SEC level.
"I just want to have a good year," Darrington said. "Overall, not just myself, just as a team. I know they went 16-16 last year. I'm looking to improve on that. I'm looking to be the best here. Not just myself, but the team. We're looking to win the league and the NCAA Tournament. That's always been a dream of mine and that's what I'm looking to do."
Darrington has been hitting the weight room late at night and taking online classes at UT, which hasn't left him much time to explore Knoxville.
"I've been to IHOP," Darrington said, smiling.
Darrington said he "definitely" has a chip on his shoulder coming from the junior college ranks.
"The SEC and the rest of the world doesn't know me yet," Darrington said. "I believe in myself, but not arrogantly. I believe in myself because I put the work in.
Darrington said he and grad transfer James Daniel III have bonded since they arrived on campus. Both players are looking to fill the scoring niche the Vols desperately needed at times during the 2016-2017 season.
"That's going to be fun," Darrington said. "He can score it. I can score it. That's what they needed, that's why they recruited us. So, it's going to be a good year."
Daniel is currently inactive after missing last season with a medical redshirt. He said he should be 100% come August.
"I have very high expectations for our group," Daniel said Monday. "We have a young team, but these guys had a lot of experience last year. With adding me, adding Chris, and a couple of our freshmen, I feel as though we have a chance to compete not only just to win the conference, but a national title."
Daniel becomes the fifth graduate transfer in Tennessee history, directly succeeding the adored Lew Evans - who scored 19 points Monday night.
"This is the biggest level of basketball, the SEC," Daniel, formerly of Howard University, said. "That's why I chose Tennessee. This is a school where I can show my talents on the biggest stage."
When asked how many points he would score in the Rocky Top League if he were healthy, Daniel flickered a devlish smile.
"I mean, a lot," he said with a laugh.
Kansas City import Derrick Walker put up ten points in his debut for Tillman Companies. Walker entered Tennessee as a hulking, six-foot-seven, 245-pound figure. He's looked to fellow teammates Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield for advice on slimming down and working on his body.
Walker and Schofield got physical on the court in competition Monday, often interlocking arms and pushing off one another.
"Admiral's fun," Walker said with a smile. "We're competitive. He always pushes me. He's the leader of the group. He talks to me and helps me out. He sits me down and writes plays for me. He's just that guy to be around."
Walker sports an eccentric hairstyle, which stands straight up - like an amplified, voluminous version of Robert Hubbs' old hairdo. Coach Barnes does not approve of it.
"He thinks it's immature, but he's just being himself," Walker said, pointing to the "old school" approach of the Vols' head coach. "I would love for him to tell me he hates my hair because that's who he is."
Walker, who could be the first Missouri native to letter for the Vols, said he likes the character on this year's Tennessee team, and that there are multiple personalities. He fits in just fine on that spectrum of personalities.
"I'm a goofy guy, but I can be a loud guy on the court," Walker said. "I can be a leader, if I need to be."
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