After losing two players so far this offseason to the transfer portal, Rick Barnes and Tennessee have added their first player from the portal. The Vols have prioritized adding accomplished shooters as well as scoring big men either as recruits in the 2021 class or from the transfer portal. The Vols have found one of their shooters via the portal, and they add a player with experience and success in the SEC. Justin Powell was a four-star guard when he came out of North Oldham High School in Goshen, KY. Tennessee offered Powell, and the staff pursued him hard, making the cut as one of his finalists. Powell ultimately chose Auburn over Tennessee, playing the 2020-2021 season for Bruce Pearl on the Plains. Early in the season, Powell was one of the standout freshmen in the country, at one point logging back-to-back 26 point games against South Alabama and Memphis. Powell’s season was cut short when he suffered a serious concussion against Texas A&M. He was entered into the concussion protocol and did not play again. Powell announced his intention to enter the transfer portal, and almost immediately, Tennessee was trying to land him again. Because of the NCAA’s ruling on eligibility for the 2020-2021 season, Powell will arrive at Tennessee as a freshman. Whether he will be eligible to play immediately or not likely hinges on the NCAA’s decision on their one-time transfer rule. The rule is expected to be passed, which has sparked the uptick in transfers across the country in football and basketball, however it has not yet been approved.
Powell is a versatile guard that can effectively serve as a point guard or as a shooting guard. At 6’6” he has good height to shoot over smaller guards, particularly when opposing point guards are trying to guard him. His length means that defensively, despite having some room to grow, he can bother opposing shooters as he closes out to try to block a shot. Powell is also not easy to turn the corner on, as his length allows him to stretch that corner out, and he is athletic enough to move and keep up with driving guards. At 205 pounds, Powell isn’t a small player by any means, but he could struggle against more physically developed shooting guards in particular. When he draws a point guard on defense, it is hard to imagine Powell being physically over matched too much. While Powell’s defense in high school and at Auburn was fine, fine typically doesn’t cut it for Rick Barnes on that end of the floor. That said, Barnes is an excellent teacher of defense, and he requires it from everyone he puts on the floor. The fact that Barnes prioritized Powell so much coming out of high school, then again as a transfer, shows that he believes he can teach and develop Powell’s defense to a level he feels is acceptable.
While defense is important to Barnes, and he will demand Powell improve on that end, that isn’t the biggest reason he was recruited. Is a pure shooter, extremely dangerous from beyond the arc, but able to score at all three levels of the floor. Powell averaged 11.7 points, 4.7 assists, 6.1 assists, and right at 1 steal per game in his time at Auburn. For the season, Powell shot .442 from deep and .429 overall. Beyond just being a shooter, Powell twice logged 9 assists in a single game, one of those efforts coming against Arkansas. Powell is also active on the boards as a guard, twice logging 8 rebound performances, one against Appalachian State and the other against Memphis. Before his injury, Powell was shining as one of the best performing freshmen in the country. It is easy to see why he was so prized by Barnes and Tennessee. While his offensive prowess as a shooter is what the Vols most desperately need, he averaged 24.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a senior in high school on .590 shooting, he is the kind of all-around player Barnes has coveted. Admiral Schofield and Josiah Jordan-James have both been players that can score a ton of points for the Vols under Rick Barnes, but they both also suffered shooting cold streaks without seeing their minutes drop. That is because, in spite of struggling to score, they still contributed to the game with rebounds, assists, and excellent defense. Powell fits into that same group. He is a scorer that the Vols need to be effective shooting, especially from three, but he is more. His size and effort make him a good rebounder. He is more than capable of running the point and facilitating for others, or doing the same from the two-guard spot, giving the Vols a two point guard look while maintaining a player with shooting guard size and scoring. Powell is also a solid defender, and as he is coached by Barnes, expect the level of his defense to rise with time and his physical development. Barnes and Tennessee have added a player that has the type of attitude they have seen success with in the past.
Powell is the first transfer that the Vols have added, however it is unlikely that he will be the last. Tennessee is still looking to add to their 2021 class, and it is very likely to contain another transfer or two. The Vols have addressed their need for a dangerous three-point shooter with Powell, and they have the added bonus of helping their rebounding as well. Powell is a player that has already shown he can be effective in major college basketball and to an extent in the SEC. He brings versatility and makes things interesting in the Tennessee backcourt. Kennedy Chandler is expected to be the primary point guard for the Vols, but Powell is also capable of running the point. How Barnes will use Powell, and what his role is for Tennessee should be interesting to watch in the coming season.