Another JUCO gem for Pinkins?

Kevin Punter (Photo by UT)

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Al Pinkins has had pretty good luck with first-team Junior College All-America shooting guards. He signed one as recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss in 2012 that you've probably heard of: Marshall Henderson.

All Henderson did in Year 1 was average 20.3 points per game, earning 2013 SEC Newcomer of the Year recognition and leading the Rebels to a 27-9 record, an SEC Tournament title and their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2002.

Now coaching and recruiting for Tennessee, Pinkins recently dipped into the JUCO ranks for another first-team All-America shooting guard – Kevin Punter from State Fair Community College in Missouri.

The obvious question: Could Kevin Punter have the kind of immediate impact at Tennessee that Marshall Henderson had at Ole Miss?

"We hope so," Pinkins said. "I like Punter. We signed him to come in and help us immediately. I think he's a really good player."

At 6-feet-4, Punter is two inches taller than Henderson. Punter also has more athleticism but less range on his jump shot. No surprise there. Like former Vol Chris Lofton, Henderson seems to shoot better from 25 feet with a hand in his face than he does from 20 feet unguarded.

Bottom line: Both may have been first-team JUCO A-As but Henderson's game and Punter's game are light-years apart. So are their personalities. Anyone who has seen the hot-dogging Henderson play needs no further explanation.

"Punter's different than Marshall; there's only one Marshall," Pinkins said, grinning broadly.

Whereas Henderson scores mostly from long range, Punter will get most of his points on drives and mid-range jumpers. Ultimately, how the new Vol scores is less important than how much he scores. Minus four of the top five scorers from last season, the Big Orange desperately needs Punter to light up the scoreboard in 2014-15, much as Henderson did as an Ole Miss rookie in 2012-13.

"I don't know if he's Marshall," Pinkins said, "but Punter's a good player."

Tennessee's new head coach thinks so, too. He believes Punter can make considerable impact on defense, as well as offense.

"Kevin Punter is a very athletic wing player," Donnie Tyndall said. "He can play multiple positions. He's 6-3, maybe 6-4, but he has a 6-9 wingspan. That may not sound like a big deal but that length is really important in our style of play – our press and how we go about doing things in our zone."

Long arms are invaluable in a zone defense, tipping passes by careless opponents.

"We have a line we always use: ‘Deflections lead to steals, steals lead to transition opportunities,' so he's going to be really good (defensively)," Tyndall said. "He can score the basketball in a lot of ways, too. He can put it on the floor and drive it, he can make 3s and he's an unselfish guy. He's a willing passer."

Punter is such a willing passer, in fact, that he may be called upon to play some point guard. Combo guard Ian Chiles, a graduate transfer from IUPUI, is the closest thing the Vols have to a point guard, and his only backup at the position is walk-on Brandon Lopez. Can Punter handle a part-time assignment as the Vols' lead guard?

"He's athletic enough and his ball skills are good enough for him to play some point for you if you needed him to," Pinkins said.

The season is still months away but it appears that Punter will play much the same role for the 2014-15 Vols that Jordan McRae filled for the 2013-14 Vols … the go-to guy at crunch time.

"The main thing I like about him," Pinkins said, "is he's a guy you can give the ball and say, ‘Go get me a basket.' If you watch teams like (national champ) UConn that made the Final Four, at the end of the day when coaching breaks down and it's about the shot clock, you've got to have guys that don't look over at the bench; they just get the ball and make baskets.

"That's what college basketball is turning into: If you can't get a basket off of your early set, once there's 10 seconds on the shot clock, somebody's got to get the ball and make a basket. I think Punter is really good at that."

Here's more from Pinkins from InsideTennessee since his hiring:

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