Rick Barnes put together his best recruiting class as Tennessee’s head coach this past offseason, with five-star point guard Kennedy Chandler as the biggest get in an already loaded class.
Chandler committed to the Vols in August of 2020 over other offers from Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and other high-profile schools. Going somewhere that felt like family was an important part in Chandler’s — a Memphis, Tennessee, native — decision.
“I was looking for a program that could help me develop and have a strong family atmosphere and a coach I could relate to,” Chandler said to ESPN’s Paul Biancardi after his commitment. “Tennessee and Rick Barnes made me feel that way.”
All Chandler has done since the day he committed is boost his stock tremendously. He led his high school, Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas, to the championship game of the GEICO Nationals Tournament and earned All-American honors from McDonald's, Spalding and Sports Illustrated for his efforts.
Over the summer, Chandler was part of the 12-man USA Basketball Men's U19 Team that won gold at the 2021 FIBA U19 World Cup in Riga, Latvia. Chandler had a slight scare during the tournament when he took a hard fall during the semifinal game, but he escaped with no serious injuries.
When Chandler arrived on campus after spending the summer in Latvia, it was easy to see why he was the nation’s No. 1 point guard recruit. He always has a calm, steady demeanor with the ball, translating to good handling and vision. Chandler has great speed and can finish at the basket too, despite being just 6-foot tall and 171 pounds.
“He’s an amazing point guard, even before coming here I saw him play a lot,” fellow freshman Brandon Huntley-Hatfield said about Chandler. “I love the way he plays, a pass-first point guard, he’s really explosive. Really about staying up to pace with him, he’s really fast, that makes us play fast.”
Chandler’s talent was put on display in Knoxville for the first time in last Saturday’s exhibition game against Lenoir-Rhyne. Chandler started and played 22 minutes in his debut for the Vols, leading the team with 21 points, along with 5 rebounds and 6 assists.
Chandler’s calm demeanor is what stands out to Barnes just one game into his Tennessee career, especially for a 19-year old. Chandler has some work to do in terms of keeping that demeanor consistent for 40 minutes, but his work ethic and inquisitive nature lend well to that.
“He wants to learn, he’s constantly asking me questions about ‘What do I need to do,’” Barnes said. “As he learns to control his speed and his pace, we often talk to him about the difference between driving on the freeway and driving in New York City. You’re going to have to figure out the two of them at times. He’ll get that, he’ll get it, but right now he’s somewhere in between.”
Once Chandler does figure that out, he will be hard to stop, especially considering who he is on the floor with. Chandler is just one piece of a seven-player recruiting class ranked No. 4 in the nation. Huntley-Hatfield, another five-star forward, was just as coveted a prospect as Chandler was.
Those two are joined by four-star Jonas Aidoo and Jahmai Mashack, and three-star Quentin Diboundje, Zakai Zeigler and Handje Tamba. Sophomore guard Justin Powell, a transfer from Auburn, rounds out the list of the Vols’ eight newcomers.
With so much turnover on a roster, building chemistry between players is of the upmost importance. For the Vols, that process has been much easier due to more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
The Vols saw the result of good chemistry Saturday. With Chandler’s status as a prospect, he could keep the spotlight on himself as he racks up points each and every night, and no one would blame him. But that’s not how he plays the game.
For Chandler, everything goes back to the family mindset. That’s why he committed to Tennessee in the first place. No one player is more important than the other. Everybody shares the same goal in the end.
“I want everyone to feel comfortable on the court,” Chandler said. “Nobody looking down on themselves. I try to get everybody involved. I feel like I've always had that mindset of finding my teammates open first and to get everybody on the same page. We are all comfortable with each other. Our main goal is to win.”