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VOL. 8 | NO. 25 | Saturday, June 13, 2015

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Dave Link

New Coach, Fans Will Keep Eye on Rocky Top League

DAVE LINK | The Ledger

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KNOXVILLE – Hoops fans, rejoice. Your summer basketball fix is almost here.

The Pilot Rocky Top League returns for its eighth year starting June 15 and should feature 11 players who will be on the University of Tennessee’s roster in 2015-16.

Tennessee guard Devon Baulkman (34) passes the ball as Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis (5) looks on during the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament, Thursday, March 12, 2015. Look for him in the Pilot Rocky Top League this summer.

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Last summer the league moved from the steamy gym at Bearden High School to the air-conditioned gym at Catholic High, and the big crowds from the Rocky Top League’s early years returned.

Rocky Top League commissioner Andre Whitehead expects the same this year – especially after new UT coach Rick Barnes put his stamp of approval on his players taking part.

“I think it will be good,” says Whitehead. “We have four of the five newcomers at UT, so people can come see them and the other returning players. The coaches (at UT) are behind it, too. That helps.”

The draft for the six-team Rocky Top League was Wednesday at Doc’s All-American Grille in Knoxville.

Game dates are June 15, 17, 22, 24, and 29 with the championship round on July 1. Three games will be played each night with start times of 6, 7:30 and 9.

NCAA rules limit only two players from the same college team to play for the same team in a summer league.

“That really only applies here because Tennessee is the only team with multiple players in the league,” adds Whitehead.

Whitehead, who lives in Alcoa and is founder and editor of the recruiting website Tennessee Prep Hoops (tnprephoops.com) for the past 15 years, has been commissioner of the Rocky Top League since he was approached by former UT coach Bruce Pearl about the idea of forming a league in 2008.

“Coach Pearl asked me if I’d ever heard of the Prime Time League in Iowa,” explains Whitehead. “I grew up in Indiana (Indianapolis) in the Midwest, and I knew about it. It’s been around for about 30 years. He threw the idea at me, ‘Let’s do this. You can run it.’ The Prime Time League was our model.”

It was a smash hit in the early years – despite temperatures and humidity that soared as the games heated up inside the Bearden Gym.

The full-court, fast-breaking games feature dunking, high scoring, and not a lot of defense, which remains the style fans can expect.

In the league’s first year, the Bearden gym was filled to capacity as fans came to watch former UT players JaJuan Smith, Chris Lofton, Dane Bradshaw, Tyler Smith, and Wayne Chism, among others.

Pearl was also an occasional spectator – drawing applause from fans in the gym when he came to watch his son, Steven, play games.

At the time, college coaches couldn’t attend Rocky Top League games per NCAA rules because it included high school and junior college players, who were potential recruits.

Pearl, however, only could watch games in which Steven played.

The Pilot Rocky Top League no longer includes high school or junior college players, so college coaches can attend. Don’t be surprised if Barnes and his staff take in a few games.

Whitehead says he had no idea the league would take off like it did at the start.

“I didn’t know it would be that big,” he recalls. “We had some great crowds in there at Bearden, even though it was so hot. We had a little bit of a lull (in attendance) two years ago, but last year when we moved to Catholic and had the air conditioning, the crowds came back. Last year was very good, and I think this year will be the same.”

UT players expected to play include four of the five new signees – guard Shembari Phillips and forwards Ray Kasongo, Admiral Schofield, and Kyle Alexander. Freshman point guard Lamonte’ Turner is not set to enroll UT until July and is not expected to play.

Other UT returning players expected to play are guards Robert Hubbs III, Braxton Bonds, Kevin Punter, Devon Baulkman, Detrick Mostella, and forwards Derek Reese and Armani Moore.

Whitehead says redshirt freshman forward Jabari McGhee won’t play due to a foot injury that kept him out for most of the 2014-15 season at UT.

Mostella, a 6-3 sophomore guard, led the Rocky Top League in scoring last year when he averaged 39 points per game. Punter, a 6-4 senior, was second with a 37.8-point average.

Chism, a 6-9 forward and two-time All-SEC player (2008-10), is in the draft and expected to play the full Rocky Top Schedule. Chism, who has played overseas since his UT career, was a fan favorite as a Vol and in the Rocky Top League, of which he’s been a regular through the years.

“Wayne is very entertaining,” says Whitehead. “He’s hilarious.”

Tennessee is hosting its “Vol For Life” camp during the Rocky Top League schedule and several former UT players are returning for it and will make cameo appearances in the Rocky Top League.

Those may include Skylar McBee, Jeronne Maymon, Bobby Maze, Tyler Smith, Cameron Tatum, and Josh Bone.

Several other former Knoxville high school players are also scheduled to play, most notably Minnesota point guard DeAndre Mathieu and Lincoln Memorial University guard Jalen Steele.

Steele was a key player for Fulton High School’s Class AA state championship runs in 2008 and 2009 before signing with Mississippi State, where he suffered a torn ACL in each knee and suffered a broken wrist in his three seasons there. Steele signed with Division II LMU having used up his Division I eligibility in which a player has five years to play four seasons.

Mathieu, former Central High School star, was the Knoxville News Sentinel’s 2011 PrepXtra player of the year after averaging 20.7 points, 6.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 turnovers as a senior. He walked on at Morehead State as a freshman in 2011-12 (29 games, nine starts), played the next year at Central Arizona College (17.1 points per game, 6.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds, ACCAC player of the year), and started for Minnesota the past two seasons.

Area colleges will be well represented in this year’s Rocky Top League with players in the draft from Tennessee Wesleyan, Maryville College, Lee University, Bryan College, King College, Tusculum, and Carson-Newman.

Whitehead said he expects a carryover from last year’s Rocky Top League success after the move to Catholic.

“It was fantastic,” he says. “We basically got the crowds back. Catholic was packed.”

Here’s a rundown of UT players to watch during the 2015 Pilot Rocky Top League (class is for 2015-16 season)

NEWCOMERS

• Kyle Alexander, 6-10 freshman forward, Milton, Ontario, Canada

Alexander graduated from Athlete Institute, a prep school in Orangeville, Ontario, and was one of 24 players selected to play in the 2015 BioSteel All-Canadian Basketball Game in Toronto. He played mostly soccer and volleyball until his sophomore year of high school when he decided to play basketball.

His father, Joseph, played college basketball in Nigeria; Kyle’s older sister, Kayla, played for Syracuse (2009-13) where she is the school’s career scoring leader, and she currently plays for the WNBA’s San Antonio Stars.

• Ray Kasongo, 6-9 sophomore forward, Toronto, Ontario, Canada/Pikeville, Ky.

Kasongo, born in Toronto, has three years of eligibility left at UT after a circuitous route to Division I ball. As a senior (2012-13) at Pikeville High School, Kasongo averaged 16 points, 10 rebounds and 5.5 blocks before going to Phase I Academy in Phoenix, Ariz., the next year. Last season, Kasongo averaged six points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 15.6 minutes per game at College of Southern Idaho, which reached the round of 16 in the NJCAA national tournament.

• Shembari Phillips, 6-4 freshman guard, Wheeler High School, Marietta, Ga.

Phillips played a big role for Wheeler (Ga.) High School on its way to a 30-2 record and the 2015 Class 6A state championship. The 2015 McDonald’s All-American nominee made one of ESPN Sportscenter’s “Top Plays” on Jan. 19, 2015 with a windmill dunk on the fast break during the Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass. Phillips attended Tucker (Ga.) High School as a junior and averaged 18 points, six rebounds and four assists.

• Admiral Schofield, 6-6 freshman forward, Zion-Benton (Ill.) High School, Zion, Ill.

Schofield was on the Associated Press All-State second team as a senior this past season and was a McDonald’s All-American nominee. In his last high school game, Schofield had 23 points and 18 rebounds as Zion-Benton High was eliminated in a regional championship game. He averaged 16 points and eight rebounds as a junior and also played quarterback for Zion-Benton’s football team and ran relays and was a high jumper during track season.

RETURNEES

• Devon Baulkman, 6-5 senior guard, Gulf Coast (Fla.) State College, Bainbridge (Ga.) High School

Baulkman signed with former UT coach Donnie Tyndall in November of 2013 out of Gulf Coast (Fla.) State College, where he spent two seasons and averaged 15.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.4 assists his second year. As a senior at Bainbridge High School, Baulkman averaged 20.8 points and 7.8 rebounds and was chosen to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s all-state first team. Last season at UT, Baulkman played in 31 games with seven starts, was the first player off the bench in eight games, and averaged 4.7 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range (26-of-68).

• Braxton Bonds, 6-1 redshirt freshman, Christ Presbyterian Academy, Nashville

Bonds took a redshirt season in 2014-15 due to NCAA guidelines for transfer students after he attended a week of summer school classes at Liberty University in the summer of 2014. He originally signed with Liberty out of high school but was released from his national letter of intent last summer. He was a key player in CPA’s 94-game winning streak against in-state opponents and its two Class AA state championship runs in 2012 and 2013. Bonds averaged 15.3 points, 7.8 assists and 3.5 steals as a senior at CPA.

• Robert Hubbs III, 6-6 junior guard, Dyer County High School, Newbern, Tenn.

Hubbs started 20 games at the wing and played in all 32 games for the Vols last season, averaging 7.2 points (fourth on team) and 2.9 rebounds. He started 16 of 18 SEC games and scored in double figures seven times in those games. His game-tying length-of-the-court drive and layup forced overtime against Vanderbilt on Feb. 11, and the Vols won 76-73.

His freshman season at UT was halted after 12 games due to season ending shoulder surgery. Hubbs was the No. 5 shooting guard in the nation by Rivals.com as a high school senior at Dyer County when he averaged 25 points and seven rebounds and led the team to the Class AAA state championship game.

• Armani Moore, 6-5 senior forward, Mt. Paran Christian School, Kennesaw, Ga.

Moore, playing an under-sized power forward role, started all 32 games for the Vols in 2014-15 and led the team in rebounding (6.8, eighth in SEC) and was the team’s second-leading scorer (10.3) and top shot blocker (1.2, ninth in SEC). He’s playing for his third coach at UT – Cuonzo Martin during his freshman and sophomore seasons, Donnie Tyndall last season, and now Rick Barnes. He played in all 33 games and averaged 3.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 2013-14; he played in 30 games with 16 starts as a freshman in UT’s four-guard lineup and averaged 2.4 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game.

Moore played for Swainsboro (Ga.) High School until his senior year, when he played for Mt. Paran Christian School and averaged 22 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks.

• Detrick Mostella, 6-3 sophomore guard, La Lumiere School (Ind.), Austin High School, Decatur, Ala.

Tennessee Volunteers guard Detrick Mostella (15) gets airborne during the game between the LSU Tigers and Tennessee Volunteers in March.

(Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

Mostella signed with former UT coach Donnie Tyndall and last season played in 31 games and averaged 3.4 points in 11.7 minutes per game. He played the 2013-14 season at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Mass., and spent the previous year at La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind., where he was a consensus four-star prospect.

His previous three seasons were played at Austin High School in Decatur, Ala., where he averaged 16.4 points as a junior and earned all-state honors by the Atlanta Sports Writers Association. He averaged 18 points as a sophomore and was The Decatur Daily’s 4A-6A Player of the Year.

• Kevin Punter, 6-4 senior guard, State Fair (Mo.) Community College, Salesian High School, New Rochelle, N.Y.

Punter, born in Bronx, N.Y., also signed with former UT coach Donnie Tyndall out of State Fair (Mo.) Community College and started 31 of 32 games last season for the Vols, averaging 10.3 points (third on the team) and 31 minutes per game (second on the team behind Josh Richardson). He scored in double figures 19 times and averaged 10 points and 1.8 steals (tied for third in SEC). Punter averaged 20.3 points as a sophomore at State Fair College, which ranked 26th nationally for junior-college players, and averaged 12.9 points as a JUCO freshman.

Punter spent one year (2011-12) at Body of Christ Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C., and averaged 24.2 points and 2.5 steals. As a senior at Salesian High School, Punter averaged 28.2 points and was the 2011 Class B State Player of the Year by the New York State Sportswriters Association.

• Derek Reese, 6-8 senior forward, Olympia High School, Orlando, Fla.

Reese moved from a perimeter wing position to the frontcourt in 2014-15 and played in all 32 games with 11 starts. He was the Vols’ fifth-leading scorer (7.2) and second-leading rebounder (5.3) while shooting 73.7 percent from the foul line (third on the team). He was the first Vol off the bench in eight games.

Like Moore, Reese will be playing for his third coach at UT after beginning his career under Cuonzo Martin, playing last season under Donnie Tyndall, and now for Rick Barnes. As a sophomore, Reese averaged 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds (second on the team) and as a freshman averaged 3.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in 13.6 minutes per game.

He spent the summer playing on Puerto Rico’s Men’s National B Team at the 2013 FIBA Stankovia Continental Champions Cup and played for Puerto Rico’s U19 National Team in the 2012 Nike Global Challenge. He was eligible to play for Puerto Rico because his grandparents, Anselmo and Irma Montanez, were born there. Reese averaged 9.5 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior at Olympia High School in Orlando. His older brother, Michael, played baseball at Division II Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., before a three-year career in pro ball.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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