A disproportionate focus on defense and toughness has often held Tennessee basketball back in the NCAA Tournament. This year, poor outside shooting went along with that.
Well, Rick Barnes seems to be addressing such an issue, and he’s doing so by adding a coach’s son. Jordan Gainey, the son of UT assistant Justin Gainey, is transferring to the Vols.
Gainey has spent the past two years with the USC Upstate Spartans, averaging 14.5 points per game. He announced his commitment to Tennessee basketball on Twitter.
In 2021-22, Gainey was named Second Team All Big South and Big South Freshman of the Year. He made First Team All Big South this year, along with former Vol forward Drew Pember, who was with the UNC Asheville Bulldogs.
The 6’4″ 175-pound Tucson, Ariz., native has shot 40.8 percent from three for his career, hitting over two a game. This is the key stat for Rocky Top.
Gainey fills a void left by Tyreke Key, who is out of eligibility. Key was supposed to be a combo guard who could stretch the floor with his shooting, but he never got quite right in SEC play.
Given the fact that Gainey, who has two years of eligibility left, hasn’t struggled with injuries the way Key had before arriving on Rocky Top, that shouldn’t be as much of a concern. Shooting 79.7 percent from the free throw line is also a huge bonus.
Now, this doesn’t mean Barnes is giving up on defense. Gainey was third in the voting for Big South Defensive Player of the year this past season, averaging just under two steals a game.
With the loss of Olivier Nkamhoua, Barnes choosing to go small as a replacement is an interesting move. Perhaps he will be more committed to the three this year.
If Tennessee basketball can do that while maintaining its elite defense, then Barnes as a coach could finally take that next step extremely late in his career. That would make them beyond dangerous.