Rick Barnes is preparing his Vols for the 2020-2021 basketball season. That includes some of the loftiest expectations in the history of Tennessee Men's Basketball. The Vols are being viewed as legitimate contenders to compete for or even win a National Championship. The Vols return a deep roster that is mixed with highly-rated, young talent, young players that showed flashes of how good they could be last season, and veterans that took massive steps forward in 2019-2020 to elevate their game. That combination of productivity, talent, experience, and depth have made this Tennessee team one that could make program history. However, Barnes knows that he will have significant pieces to replace in 2021-2022. Seniors like All-SEC forward John Fulkerson and SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons will be gone to the NBA. Other young players could consider leaving for the NBA early as well. Barnes is trying to build Tennessee into a perennial, national contender. That boils back to recruiting. It is vital that Barnes and assistant Kim English are able to recruit elite talent to Knoxville, year-in and year-out, in order to elevate the program. The Volunteers landed possibly the best recruiting class in school history in 2020, after landing a highly rated class in 2019 as well. The potential is there for Tennessee to land an even better class in 2022, and the Vols took a step in that direction today with the commitment of Etiwanda (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) wing, Jahmai Mashack.
Any description of Mashack's game begins in the same place as so many recruits that Rick Barnes has brought to Knoxville: With his defense. The hallmark of the teams Rick Barnes has put on the floor during his time in Knoxville, has been that they have excelled on the defensive end of the floor. Even when the Vols have been up and down, all of Barnes' teams have been at their best when their defense was effective. The 2019-2020 Vols struggled at times with inexperience, injuries, a short bench, and offensive inconsistency, but they were one of the best defensive teams in the NCAA. That meant that even in games where the Vols’ had long scoring droughts, they were able to stay in games by preventing their opponents from scoring. Barnes has shown that he places a premium on players that commit to high-level defense, and Mashack is such a player. At 6’6” and 200 pounds, Mashack is a wing with a good wingspan, quick feet, and the ability to contest a wide area of the floor, as well as shots of most outside shooters. Mashack looks very fluid and comfortable when he moves. Despite his length, he is comfortable with his body, able to make quick steps easily to deny penetration on the wing. Mashack is not an easy defender to get by on the dribble, and his length and quick hands mean that he is capable.kf cutting off passing lanes as well. Mashack will need to add some muscle to his frame to handle bigger players if he is defending or rebounding closer to the basket, but he has a body that Strength Coach AJ Artis can develop. As it stands, Mashack is a high-level on-ball defender when he arrives at Tennessee. That is one of the fastest ways for a freshman to get minutes under Barnes. It also means that Mashack can provide added size and length as one of several quality one-on-one defenders for Tennessee.
While Mashack shines defensively, he is not a one-way player. Mashack is able to contribute on both ends of the floor. On film, Mashack shows the ability to put the ball on the floor, drive the lane, and finish at the rim. For a Tennessee team that struggled mightily at times in 2019-2020 to find any offense, a wing that can catch the ball in a rotation, see a lane, and simply attack the rim on his own is a blessing. The Vols don't always have to scheme offense for Mashack, drawing up plays to get him the ball. He has the ability to catch the ball on a routine pass, see an opportunity, blow by his man, and score. That ability to get his own points without much help, and to be an elite on-ball defender should make Mashack a strong contender for playing time as a freshman, and possibly tempting as a sixth man candidate for Barnes. Mashack also shows a consistent mid-range jump shot that he can utilize when teams deny him the rim or when he sees the opportunity. At this point in his career, Mashack is more developed defensively, but the solid foundation pieces of his offensive game are present. The Vols will look to develop an effective three-point shot from Mashack in his time in Knoxville. If he can build on the offensive tools he already possesses and stretch his effective range to the three-point line, Mashack becomes a threat to score at every level, each time the ball passes through his hands. Another area that Mashack looks to be dangerous offensively for Tennessee is cutting to the hoop without the ball. The Rick Barnes Volunteers, no matter their personnel, have always been most effective offensively when the offense primarily runs through the paint. While this has meant feeding players like Grant Williams, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Kyle Alexander, and at times Admiral Schofield, it has also meant hitting cutting wings for easy points or backdoor scores. Though any of these players could choose to leave Tennessee early, Mashack should be in Knoxville along with Victor Bailey Jr., Josiah Jordan James, Santiago Vescovi, and fellow 2021 commit Kennedy Chandler. This means that Mashack should always be on the floor with at least one point guard that is an excellent passer, able to give him an opportunity to score as he moves without the ball in the wider offense.
Tennessee is landing another elite talent in Mashack, a four-star player that is regarded as one of the Top 50 players in the nation. It is another elite talent that Barnes and English have been able to bring into the Tennessee program that fits exactly what they are trying to build. Mashack is a high-level defender with a high ceiling on that end of the floor, meaning he fits in perfectly with the philosophy Barnes has in this team. He can get his own points on high percentage shots, while also playing within the wider offense, something a team this defensively sound requires. Mashack has a high basketball IQ and is a team first player, meaning that he should buy into and fit the culture Barnes has built in Knoxville and thrive there. He also represents Tennessee going head to head with some blue bloods of the basketball world for a valuable recruit and winning, as the Vols came out ahead of UCLA, Arizona, and Louisville, as well as offers from Texas, Oklahoma, Cal, and Arkansas. Barnes and English have shown the ability to develop talent in their program, and now they are showing they can go across the country to land elite talent. Added to Chandler, Mashack also shows that the Vols have the ability to do this every season, as they add another piece to what they hope is another elite class.