Breaking: Vols Add Grad Transfer EJ Anosike
Earlier this week, Jalen Johnson entered his name into the transfer portal to leave the Tennessee basketball program as a graduate transfer. Johnson was highly spoken of by all his teammates throughout his time at Tennessee, and he was even spoken well of by Rick Barnes. However, going into his final season of eligibility, Johnson saw that the Vols were going to have an incredibly crowded backcourt. He would have just one season left to make his dream of playing at the next level come true, and he felt finding playing that season somewhere besides Knoxville would be best for that. This is an example of the transfer portal and the grad transfer rules doing exactly what they were intended to.
Earlier in the week, the Vols lost a player as an ideal graduate transfer candidate. Today, they added one. Electing to leave Sacred Heart University as a grad transfer, EJ Anosike has announced he will be finishing his collegiate career with the Vols. Where Johnson left the Vols because of a logjam of talent and limited minutes in the backcourt, Anosike looks to take advantage of Tennessee having very little depth in their frontcourt. The Vols played their 2019-20 season with John Fulkerson and Yves Pons playing the lion’s share of post minutes. After being granted eligibility, Uros Plavsic did contribute some minutes for the Vols, but the rising sophomore center still has improvements to make to be a consistent factor in the middle for the Vols. With Drew Pember playing as an outside shooting wing, Tennessee is in desperate need of a big man that can be a physical rebounder while contributing on the offensive end next to Fulkerson and Pons. Not only is Anosikein a position to fill a depth concern for Tennessee, his skillset is exactly what they were looking for.
Anosike was one of the most coveted graduate transfers on the market because of his ability to help any roster with his skills. At 6’6” and 245 pounds, Anosike doesn't answer Tennessee's need for more pure height in their front court, however, like his new teammate Yves Pons, also 6’6”, Anosike plays bigger than his height. Part of that can be contributed to his weight. That 245-pound frame means Anosike looks like a defensive end on the football team more than a forward. Where Pons plays above his 6’6” height by being an astounding leaper, Anosike plays like a taller big by out-muscling and moving smaller, thinner forwards out of the way. Anosike's size and strength mean that he regularly wins when fighting for position to get a rebound. Anosike gets under taller, leaner bigs, sets up inside, boxes them out, and moves them out of his way by loading them on his hip. While this will be more difficult to accomplish for Anosike against SEC competition, all indications are that his rebounding talent, hustle, and commitment should translate well from Sacred Heart, where Anosike averaged 11.6 boards per game in 2019-2020.
However, Anosike was more than just a rebounding machine for the Pioneers. He averaged a double-double for the season, with 15.7 points per game to go with the 11.6 rebounds. Anosike's rebounding often led to direct opportunities to score. Anosike is a gifted offensive rebounder, and he finds ways to put back the rebounds he gathers in. Active under the rim as more than a garbage collector, Anosike can back his opponents down, then spin to finish on either side. Anosike is a blue collar, gritty, worker under the rim, fighting for rebounds, hustling for put backs, and getting defenders off their feet to create opportunities to score and get to the line. He is willing to do the dirty work down in the post, and cash the efforts in to benefit his team. That said, Anosike is also a threat to score from behind the three-point arc. Anosike can play as a stretch four in Tennessee's offense, and can hurt teams following a shot, skying for a rebound, and slamming home a put back dunk as easily as drilling a corner three. Anosike arrives in Knoxville with a complete offensive game for a slightly undersized big that simply won't be outworked.
Defensively, Anosike gives the Vols another big body that can hold up to the battering in the post. He has quick enough feet to defend in space, but his physical strength and presence deter many from driving the lane. While he is unlikely to be confused with Pons soaring through the rafters to swat a shot into the third row, Anosike is a good shot blocker and a physical defender. The Vols encountered teams last year that were able to back them out with their bigs, contest the paint, and move Tennessee forwards around. Anosike brings a physicality that the Vols sorely missed at times on the block. He is a struggle for most opposing bigs to back down, athletic enough to stay with many wings in space, and an accomplished shot blocker in his own right. Pairing Anosike with Pons will result in many shots being altered and blocked, while Anosike's excellent rebounding helps the Vols with one of last season's great weaknesses. Pairing him with the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year in Pons creates nightmares in the paint for opponents.
All in all, the grad transfer from Sacred Heart ticks most every box the Vols could want in a big to help their roster. It is difficult to see Anosike failing to at least be a significant contributor for Tennessee. If he can come in and maintain the kind of numbers he averaged at Sacred Heart, Anosike could be a direct reason Tennessee wins more of the close games that they lost last season. Adding a double-double player into the post also allows Tennessee to move Yves Pons around and keep both Pons and Fulkerson fresher. From the family ties playing for Tennessee in Thompson Boling Arena to fitting what this upcoming Tennessee team needs, the grad transfer of EJ Anosike is an example of the transfer portal working a best-case scenario. With the addition of Anosike, the expectations for Tennessee rose higher yet again for the 2020-2021 season.
featured image via Anthony Gruppuso USA- Today Sports