By: Josh Jessee
Junior Staff Writer
The All Vol Call in Show
It's that magical time of year again-- and no, I don't mean the holiday season. It's the time of year where
football season is in full swing, and basketball season has finally arrived.
Tennessee opens up the 2023-2024 basketball campaign on Monday against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. The Vols have already played in two exhibition games, taking on (4)Michigan State and Lehnoir-Rhyne. The Vols came out on top in both of those exhibition contests without the help of guard Zakai Zeigler who is recovering from ACL surgery, and guard Santiago Vescovi who was attending to family matters back home in Uruguay. The season begins on Monday and Vescovi will be back in action for his fifth season on Rocky Top.
Vescovi set college basketball ablaze during the 2021-2022 season, becoming only the second player at Tennessee to hit 100+ three pointers in a single season, joining Chris Lofton as the only other Tennessee player to do so. Vescovi shot 40.3% 3-point shooting as a junior with 44.5% on 3-pointers during SEC play. Vescovi also had a career high average of 13.3 points per game. With immense expectations going into the 2022-2023 season, he and the team left a lot on the off the board by season's end. Vescovi had a drop off in points per game only averaging 12.5 points per game. Usually an automatic free throw shooter, especially in clutch moments in the game, he saw more than his fair share of misses.
Vescovi’s performance last season was affected by a lingering shoulder injury through the majority of the year. His offense drew more attention from opposing offenses, making it more difficult for him to dominate the way he did his junior season. The Vols are gearing up for a new year, one with a lot of new faces and what appears to be a much deeper and talented team than in years past. As we look forward to the upcoming year, there are several key reasons why this year's team will play a vital role in enhancing Vescovi' s
performance and helping him become a more formidable player than he was last season.
Vescovi didn't have poor stat lines, in fact he, he surpassed the expectations of what other teams would determine to be fantastic. But for fans who have followed Vescovi throughout his career, he never really looked like himself last season. But all of that can, and probably will, change this season. Vescovi enters this year already on the Jerry West Award watch list and the All-SEC Media Team. Vescovi is sure to pick up more regular season, and potentially post season, awards.
Even last season, despite his down year, Vescovi was still on the SEC All-Conference Team.
The Vols are much healthier this season than they were last season. The Vols faced their fair share of injuries last year that hindered their offensive rhythm. Vescovi faced a shoulder injury, Josiah Jordan James had a lingering knee injury from an off season surgery, and Zakai Zeigler
suffered a torn ACL late in the season. Those key injuries, along with the typical bangs and bruises, of a basketball season kept important players off the floor at critical times, especially when Zeigler went down. Injuries lead to several frustrations for the Vols on offense last season. When those injuries took key players away from the floor, it provided ample opportunity for the defense to double team Vescovi and force role players or bench players to beat them.
On top of the injuries one cannot ignore the elephant in the room-- the fact that Tennessee was not built for offense last season. Tennessee had skilled offensive players, but rarely were on the floor at the same time leading to double teams that made it difficult for key players to score. Tennessee was also built for defense and it showed statistically last season the Vols were
among the best defensive basketball teams in the country; a signature trademark of any Rick
Barnes coached team. The Vols' focus on defense helped them win their fair share of games, beating several top-ranked programs. At the same time, the inability to score and long offensive droughts cost them some games, and frustrated Vol fans.
Tennessee hit the recruiting trail and the transfer portal hard this season. The addition of new talent to the Vols roster will alleviate the pressure on Vescovi. Last year, he often had to carry the team on his back, which took a toll on his performance. Vescovi failed to get clean shots and play his natural role on the floor. With improved depth and skilled players around him, Vescovi will have more opportunities to get back to the Vescovi that Vol
fans know and love. Tennessee has all the right pieces to be very successful this season, but two additions that will greatly assist Vescovi are Jordan Gainey and Dalton Knecht. So far throughout the two exhibition games, the tandem has proven lethal. They can score from anywhere and bring offense with them wherever they go; something Tennessee needed desperately.
I look for Vescovi to be much more comfortable in this new-look offense, as well as make a legitimate push for the Jerry West Award and SEC Player of the Year Award. If Vescovi has that "turn around" season that he is poised to have, the Vols will make some noise in March in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.