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VOL. 8 | NO. 6 | Saturday, January 31, 2015

Campbell’s Gamble Finally Pays With Scholarship

DAVE LINK | The Ledger

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KNOXVILLE – Galen Campbell might get to play a minute here or there as the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team pursues its surprising run toward bubble status for the NCAA tournament.

Galen Campbell cheers from the sidelines as guard Kevin Punter shoots a three-pointer during Tennessee’s 67-55 win against Butler in December at Thompson-Boling Arena.

(Randy Sartin-USA Today Sports and Tennessee Athletics/UTsports.com)

Or he might not get off the bench.

No matter for the 2011 Fulton High School graduate who came to UT as a walk-on with plans of earning a scholarship.

His plans never materialized, at least not until Jan. 9 when UT coach Donnie Tyndall stunned Campbell at a team meeting.

Tyndall called Campbell to the front of the room before a video session, and began addressing the team:

“I just think it’s important that when people are saying all this stuff about what we can’t do, we only have nine scholarship guys, it’s not enough to compete at this level,” Tyndall said, turning to Campbell, “so last night I said, ‘You know what I’m gonna do? I’m gonna change that.’ We now have 10 scholarship guys because we’re putting you on scholarship.”

Tyndall’s announcement was met with applause and cheers from UT’s players and gratitude from Campbell.

CAMPBELL

“I was speechless,” Campbell says. “It was definitely a dream come true.”

How did the Vols’ roster get reduced to nine? For starters, only four scholarship players returned from the 2013-14 roster after former coach Cuonzo Martin left for the job at California. None of Martin’s recruits came to UT, either.

Then the roster took hits after the season began. Sophomore center Dominic Woodson never got in playing shape and decided to transfer after the semester break; freshman forward Jabari McGhee fractured his foot Dec. 17 against N.C. State and has been out since then; and graduate transfer point guard Ian Chiles’ season ended Jan. 5 due to a shoulder injury requiring surgery.

Campbell, a 6-foot-2 guard, has played a bigger role in the locker room than during games for the Vols, whose 4-2 start in the SEC entering the week and upsets of nationally ranked Butler and Arkansas defied most projections. UT was picked to finish 13th in the SEC by media covering the league.

“(Campbell) wants to be a coach, and when he talks in our locker room, our guys respect him, even though he doesn’t play a whole lot,” Tyndall explains. “I’ve just enjoyed being around him. We had the scholarship available. He graduates in May, so we said, ‘Hey, let’s give him a scholarship and finish up his career for a semester here.’ ”

It was a long wait for Campbell, who passed up at least two Division I scholarship offers (Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky) and accepted a preferred walk-on spot by former UT coach Bruce Pearl.

One big problem: UT fired Pearl in mid-March of 2011 amid an NCAA investigation, and he never coached Campbell.

Martin was hired as the Vols’ coach, and Campbell decided to stick with his plans to walk on at UT. He played a total of seven minutes in five games during the 2011-12 season and scored two points – not near what he could have done at a mid-major Division I school.

“I had a couple of mid-major offers out of high school, but I didn’t take them because when Bruce Pearl offered me to come here as an invited walk-on, I like the idea because I saw (walk-ons) Skylar McBee, JaJuan Smith, and Josh Bone getting scholarships (under Pearl),” Campbell says.

“When (Pearl) got fired, and we got coach Martin, it was just something about Tennessee. I felt like God – my parents and I prayed about it – and it was just something about Tennessee. I wanted to be here. I felt like I had a reason to be here. I didn’t even know what it was.”

His mettle was tested the next season when UT budget cuts eliminated one of the walk-on positions with the team, and Campbell lost his walk-on status. He still joined the team as a practice player midway through the 2012-13 season.

Coach Donnie Tyndall, right, congratulates a shocked Galen Campbell after announcing that Campbell would be placed on scholarship.

(Screen Grab Courtesy of UTsports.com)

Last season, Campbell played in eight games, totaled 12 minutes, and scored eight points. Only he knows how close he came to calling it quits at times.

“It has definitely been rough,” he says. “I came from my freshman year, basically being cut from the team. I stayed, but I could have gone to some decent junior colleges, but it was just something about the University of Tennessee.

“I wanted to stay. I never told anyone, but I came close a lot of times where I wanted to quit. I just didn’t want to play anymore. If it wasn’t for my family, my pastor, and my girlfriend being encouraging to me, and just telling me to stay through it, they knew how much I loved basketball and how much I want to coach.

“Without those people, I don’t think I would have made it. I’m glad I stayed, because I got rewarded for it.”

Campbell, who has played in one game this season, plans to be a graduate assistant coach in 2015-16, and has talked with Tyndall about a possible position at UT. He has no plans to play a senior year of basketball.

“I thought about it,” Campbell adds. “I prayed about it and everything. For this to happen (the scholarship) and this probably being my last four months playing basketball in my life, I’ve been playing since I was four. Both of my parents played college basketball (Richard at Middle Tennessee State University, Beverly at Oral Roberts). It’s been a long journey, but I’m ready for a new stepping stone.”

Campbell’s father was the leading scorer (19 points) in arguably the biggest win in MTSU history, the 1982 defeat of No. 15 Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.

In honor of Campbell being the Vols’ 10th healthy scholarship player, let’s take a look at the other nine [with statistics going into the Jan. 27 game at Arkansas]:

Josh Richardson, 6-6, 200 pounds, senior guard, Edmond, Okla.: Richardson, one of the four returning scholarship players from 2013-14, is the Vols’ co-captain and undeniably their best player. He’s in his third year as a full-time starter.

His teammates call him “Breezy” for his cool demeanor, yet he’s got some intensity in him, too. During the Vols’ 67-61 home loss to Texas A&M [Jan. 24], Richardson got in the face of a teammate after a blown defensive assignment led to an Aggies layup.

Richardson, chosen to the preseason All-SEC second team by coaches, moved from off guard to point guard when Darius Thompson, who would have been the Vols’ only experienced point guard returning from 2013-14, opted to transfer to Virginia with Martin’s departure.

No doubt Richardson’s move has salvaged UT’s chances for a postseason bid of any kind. He’s started every game and is averaging 15.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.8 turnovers while shooting 41 percent from 3-point range (25 of 61).

Armani Moore, 6-5, 215 pounds, junior forward, Kennesaw, Ga.: Moore struggled at point guard as a true freshman in 2012-13 and ended up playing forward in Martin’s four-guard lineup with 16 starts in his first year. He didn’t start last season, his minutes dropped slightly (12.9 per game), and his production remained minimal.

One of the four returnees from 2013-14, Moore has become a key player in Tyndall’s system. His athleticism allows him to play much bigger than 6-5, and he’s started every game at either small forward or power forward (he and Richardson are the only Vols to start every game).

When Tyndall was at Southern Miss, he recruited Moore out of Mt. Paran Christian School, where he averaged 22 points, 9.3 rebounds, and shot almost 40 percent from the floor. He entered the week [Jan. 26] as the Vols’ third-leading scorer (9.6 points) and top rebounder (6.7), which ranked eighth in the SEC.

Derek Reese, 6-8, 220 pounds, junior forward, Orlando, Fla.: After two years as a backup in the Vols’ frontcourt under Martin, Reese has moved into a part-time starter’s role this season (eight starts) alongside Moore.

It’s been a welcome relief for Reese, whose production was limited (at best) in his first two years (2.4 points, 3.4 rebounds last season). Reese was in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game when the Vols lost to Texas A&M.

He has made some big plays for the Vols this season – including a clutch 3-pointer in the upset of then-No. 15 Butler and a solid game in the upset of then-No. 19 Arkansas (seven points, six rebounds). He’s averaging 5.6 points and is the team’s No. 2 rebounder (5.2).

Robert Hubbs III, 6-6, 206 pounds, sophomore guard, Newbern: Tyndall was successful in re-recruiting Hubbs when former classmates Darius Thompson and A.J. Davis opted to transfer when Martin left for California. Obviously, the Vols’ new coach saw what Hubbs did to become a five-star recruit out of Dyer County High School.

Hubbs was rated the No. 23 overall prospect and No. 5 shooting guard in the nation by Rivals as a high school senior, but never got to show his stuff his freshman year. After 12 games – he averaged 5.0 points and 1.4 rebounds – Hubbs’ season ended due to a shoulder injury dating back to high school, and he had surgery. He was cleared in June.

Like Reese, Hubbs was in the starting lineup for the fourth consecutive game when UT lost to Texas A&M. He’s the Vols’ fourth-leading scorer (6.1) and has been decent from 3-point range (34.1 percent, 14 of 41) after making some adjustments to his shooting stroke.

Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180 pounds, junior guard, Bronx, N.Y.: Punter was the second player Tyndall signed (after Jabari McGhee of Hargrave Military) as the Vols’ coach scrambled to assemble a team after Martin’s departure and the ensuing defections.

Punter is a well-traveled player. After graduating from Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y., in 2011, Punter averaged 24.2 points the next year in prep school at Body of Christ Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C. He spent the next two years at State Fair (Mo.) C.C.

Tyndall considered playing Punter at point guard this season before settling on Richardson as the starter. Good move for Punter, who is second on the team in scoring (10.7 points) and is second on the team in 3-point percentage (.429, 24 of 56). He’s started all but one game and averages 30.4 minutes, second only to Richardson’s 34.7 minutes.

Willie Carmichael III, 6-8, 210 pounds, freshman center, Apopka, Fla.: With the loss of burly post/forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon from the 2013-14 roster, Tyndall replaced them with two long, rangy freshmen, Carmichael and Tariq Owens. Different style players, but effective nonetheless with big upsides.

Carmichael has started 13 games and averages 17.3 minutes – more than Tyndall would like for a true freshman low post in the SEC – yet that’s where UT’s roster stands. Ideally, Tyndall would have redshirted Carmichael, who’s averaging 3.7 points and 2.7 rebounds.

Give him some time. Tyndall has referred to Carmichael as a “poor man’s Kenneth Faried,” referring to the player he coached at Morehead State who now plays for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets.

Tariq Owens, 6-10, 205 pounds, freshman forward, Odenton, Md.: Owens, who attended St. Vincent Pallotti High School before a year at Mt. Zion Prep in Baltimore, originally signed with Ohio, but got out of the scholarship after a coaching change there. He was the last signee (May 21) as Tyndall scrambled to assemble a recruiting class for this season.

When Owens arrived on campus in July, he weighed 173 pounds, and quickly got in a weight program and is now listed at more than 200 pounds. He’s playing the fewest minutes (6.3) and producing the least (0.6 points, 0.8 rebounds) of any of the 10 healthy scholarship players, but like Carmichael, would have benefitted from a redshirt season.

Still, Owens is an instinctual shot blocker, and he’s still growing. Tyndall likes the future of Owens, saying: “He was a guy that we felt like we really needed.”

Devon Baulkman, 6-5, 200 pounds, junior guard, Bainbridge, Ga.: Baulkman originally signed with Southern Miss out of Gulf Coast (Fla.) State College in the fall of 2013 when Tyndall was still the coach there, and chose to follow him after he left for UT. Tyndall knew he was getting a potential scoring machine in Baulkman, who averaged 15.5 points at Gulf Coast in his second season and dropped 48 on Northwest Florida State in one game.

His impact with the Vols hasn’t been so profound, yet he’s had his moments. Baulkman is the Vols’ top 3-point shooter percentage-wise (44.4 percent, 16 of 36) and he can score off the dribble. Tyndall would like to see more consistency.

Detrick Mostella, 6-3, 170 pounds, freshman guard, Decatur, Ala.: Mostella began his high school career at Austin High School in Decatur, Ala, before transferring to La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., for his senior year.

While there, he signed with Oklahoma State in the fall of 2012 – without even visiting the campus – and changed his mind, got out of the OSU scholarship, and committed to Pitt.

He didn’t qualify academically at Pitt, so he went to Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., last season.

Tyndall and his staff had recruited Mostella while at Southern Miss and were told the four-star recruit was bound for a higher level.

After moving on to UT, Tyndall re-connected with Mostella and signed him May 8, 2014.

Now, Mostella is the Vols’ leading scorer of any non-starter (4.7 points) and has played big in two big games – 17 points against then-No. 15 VCU and 13 against then-No. 11 Kansas. He’s started one game and is averaging 14.6 minutes.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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