KNOXVILLE — The number of defections and releases that greeted the start of Donnie Tyndall's tenure as Tennessee's basketball coach is alarming, but the Volunteers' new leader is rolling with the punches.
The four-man signing class predecessor Cuonzo Martin assembled is completely depleted, and returning players Darius Thompson -- the lone true point guard on the roster -- and A.J. Davis have been granted releases to transfer.
Yet Tyndall, two weeks and a day into the job, remains positive and level-headed.
"It didn't surprise us at all," he said Tuesday afternoon. "It's the nature of college basketball. When other coaches sign guys, there's a loyalty there, just as the guys I signed at Southern Miss would love to come here with me to Tennessee. It's just the nature of the beast.
"None of that caught me off guard. You have transition where guys aren't sure if they're going to fit in, or if you like them as players, and there's a lot of apprehension and a lot of uneasiness. It's just part of it."
Tyndall and assistants Al Pinkins, Adam Howard and Chris Shumate are trying to make the most of the available recruits and transfers available this late in the cycle while trying to hold together the current roster.
The Vols have signed a scoring guard in junior college All-American Kevin Punter and an athletic, long forward in Jabari McGhee, and while the search for late adds isn't done, the immediate focus is on keeping some of the returning players on board, one in particular.
Tyndall and some or all of his staff are scheduled to meet with Robert Hubbs III and his family in West Tennessee tonight, Hubbs' father told the Times Free Press via text message Tuesday evening, amid specualtion the former five-star recruit may join Thompson and Davis in asking for a release.
"If he's healthy," Tyndall said of Hubbs, "he's a guy that's very, very talented."
Tennessee's new staff remain "hopeful" Thompson and Davis will return, and one assistant said the Vols particularly would like to keep Thompson, a long-armed guard and gifted passer who would fit into Tyndall's pressing, up-tempo style.
The booming market of transfers has made taking over this late in the game less of a challenge for new coaching staffs, but it also can lead to their own players leaving.
"It's the land we live in, and kids need an opportunity to explore their options, because coaches can leave," Tyndall said. "Why can't players have an opportunity to at least explore their options? I'm good with it. I certainly don't want to lose guys. I'm certainly not going to run players out of the program, but you want guys that want to be here."
Tyndall said he's had two or three team meetings with the returning players, who are finishing final exams this week before heading to their hometowns, and has told them to stop by his office to get to know him and his assistants.
"I've touched probably every guy six or seven times in the two-week period -- a couple of them just three- or four-minute conversations, other times more lengthy visits," he said. "All the guys, at least when they're dealing with me, seem excited to come back, seem excited to be ready to go in May workouts for summer school.
"The conversations and meetings have all went really well to this point."
When he took over at Southern Miss, Tyndall dealt with a similar situation. Taking over an NCAA tournament team from Larry Eustachy, Tyndall inherited just four returning players: two starters and two other guys who each averaged 2.6 points in limited minutes. The Golden Eagles lost five seniors, and second-leading scorer LaShay Page transferred to South Carolina. Southern Miss was picked to finish ninth in a 12-team Conference USA.
The Golden Eagles won a school-record 27 games.
"I know how hard that is to do," Tyndall said. "It was the best record in the history of the school at that time, and I don't take that for granted. We certainly are going to surprise some people with who we end up signing over the next few weeks."
Jareem Dowling was announced as Tennessee’s director of player development, but he has elected to return to Southern Mississippi, which hired former Nebraska coach Doc Sadler last week, as a bench coach.
Tyndall hired Dowling, a former coach at Slippery Rock and with the U.S. Virgin Islands national team program, heading into his final season at Morehead State and took him to Southern Miss, but at Tennessee Tyndall wanted a coach with SEC ties, so he tabbed Ole Miss assistant Al Pinkins to join Southern Miss holdovers Adam Howard and Chris Shumate.
“He wants to stay on the road and recruit and continue to coach,” Tyndall said. “Coach Sadler’s a good friend of mine. I really encouraged him to keep Coach Dowling, so he’s going to stay right there in that capacity.”
Tyndall said he’s got “three or four guys” in mind for that position and hopes to make a hire by the end of this week.
The Vols are expecting to receive visits from IUPUI transfer Ian Chiles and forward Tariq Owens, a former Ohio signee, some time next week. The 6-foot-1 Chiles averaged nearly 16 points per game this season for the Jaguars. Temple and Seton Hall are interested in Owens, a 6-foot-10 prospect from Maryland who was granted his release after Ohio’s coaching change.
Tennessee has been linked to Detrick Mostella, a 6-foot-3 guard out of Notre Dame Preparatory School in Massachusetts. The nation’s No. 44 overall player according to 247sports.com, signed with Oklahoma State as part of the 2013 class, but he wound up committing to play at Pittsburgh. The Alabama native ended up going to prep school.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.