He drained 20 of 36 shots — 11 of 21 from 3-point range — en route to 54 points in Wednesday night's Rocky Top League action at Catholic High but he may spend much of 2014-15 distributing the ball for Tennessee, rather than shooting it.
That isn't the scenario 6-foot-4 Kevin Punter envisioned when he signed with the Vols in April but it's becoming increasingly likely with the guy projected to be the point guard — graduate transfer Ian Chiles of IUPUI — continuing to recover from hernia surgery.
Punter, a first-team JUCO All-American at State Fair Community College in Missouri last winter, concedes that Tennessee's coaches have mentioned playing him at point guard in the season ahead, noting: "It was put up on the table a little bit."
Even if Chiles recovers fully and claims the first-team point-guard job, the Vols will need a backup to provide him with occasional breathers. Punter, who has exhibited a very good handle and floor vision in the Rocky Top League this summer, could be destined to fill that role. Then again, so could fellow JUCO signee Devon Baulkman … or senior wing Josh Richardson, who has played a little point guard … or senior walk-on Brandon Lopez.
"I feel like we have a bunch of guys that can play that role, too," Punter said. "It's just basketball. If I have to be in that position, I'll do what I need to do."
Although he has the skills to play point guard, Punter appears ideally suited to play shooting guard. Whether he's launching 3-pointers, pulling up for 15-footers or attacking the rim, he shows a real knack for scoring. He's leading the Rocky Top League with an average of 40.0 points per game, even though he's essentially the point guard for the Clancy's Tavern entry.
"I wouldn't necessarily say I'm the point guard but I do a lot of the ball-handling," he said. "Really, this is nothing. I'm just out there having fun."
That's because scoring points is fun. Punter scored 46 in his RTL debut, hitting 16 of 31 from the field, 3 of 8 from 3 and 10 of 11 from the foul line. He followed with 29 points in Game 2, hitting 13 of 28 from the field, 1 of 6 from 3 and 2 of 3 from the foul line. Game 3 saw him score 31 points but struggle a bit. He made just nine of 26 shots (1 of 7 from 3) but still drained 12 of 13 foul shots.
Through four summer-league games Punter is shooting 38.1 percent from 3 and 87.1 percent from the foul line, nearly matching the stats he put up last year in junior college (37.1 from 3 and 82.7 from the line). His 47.9 field-goal percentage, though good, is down nearly 10 points from the sizzling 57.1 mark he posted last season. He says that's due to shot selection … or a lack thereof.
"A lot of times I take bad shots here that I wouldn't take normally," he said. "I take ‘em just to shoot it. I wouldn't worry about how I'm shooting from the field out here."
With four of the top five scorers missing from the 2013-14 Tennessee squad that went 24-13 and reached the Sweet 16, Punter's abilities as a point-producer are critical to the Vols' success. That's why the coaches are preparing him to play point, shooting guard and small forward.
"I'm alternating at the point in practice," he said. "Mostly I'm working all three guard spots, knowing all three positions."
Punter is pumped about the Vol season ahead, whether he's playing full-time wing, full-time point guard or splitting time at the two outposts. He seems happy with every aspect of his new environment.
"I love it since the moment I got here," he said. "Everything's great. Everyone's treating me well. I love living out here."
Punter says he fell in love with Tennessee during the official visit he completed mere hours before signing with the Vols.
"When I came out for my visit everything was put out for me," he said. "When I got here it was the same thing. No surprises."
Still, the jump from junior college basketball to high-major basketball is a big one. Whereas the atmosphere was loosey-goosey at State Fair Community College, it's a lot more structured at Tennessee. Head coach Donnie Tyndall is a comedian off the court but he's a drill sergeant on it.
"It's been real different but I'm taking it in," Punter said. "I'm taking it in and I'm getting better every single day. I'm embracing it. I like it. It's different but it's better for me and the team."
Punter didn't hesitate when asked how Tyndall managed to sign eight recruits in a matter of three weeks in April.
"He laid out the format for us — for everybody he's recruiting," the player said. "I like what he's trying to do this year. I was one of the guys that want to do it with him."
In addition to believing in his new coach, Punter believes in his new teammates.
"I like everybody," he said. "Everybody's a team player. Everybody's real competitive. That's how you win ballgames – be competitive, play defense and want to win."
Although best known for his offensive skills, Punter is a pretty fair defender. He's eager to play in Tyndall's three-quarter court press.
"It's fun playing defense, especially when you're in shape and you know the other team is tired," the player said. "Coach has been putting in some stuff and we're ready to get it going.
"I can't wait. I'm ready to go."
The question: Where will he go when Tennessee has the ball — shooting guard or point guard?
"I think I'll be ready if I need to play the point," Punter said. "I'll just continue to get stronger and continue to prepare myself for the next level.
"If Coach needs me to play that spot for a whole game, why not?"
WEDNESDAY'S ROCKY TOP RESULTS
GAME 1: Tennessee signee Detrick Mostella scored 44 points and ex-Vol Bobby Maze added 33 as Rice Buick nipped Clancy's Tavern 132-131 in a thriller. Mostella hit 13 of 30 shots, including 8 of 18 from 3 and his usual assortment of eye-popping dunks. Vol recruiting target Brandon Walters, a 6-foot-9, 295-pound Walters State sophomore, hit 3 of 4 field-goal tries and chipped in 6 points for Rice. As noted above, Kevin Punter scored 54 for Clancy's. Vol freshman Jabari McGhee added 23, hitting 10 of 13 field-goal tries and 3 of 6 foul shots.
GAME 2: Ex-Vol Kenny Hall scored 30 points in leading The Knoxville News-Sentinel to a 121-103 overtime defeat of Choice Spine. Ex-Vol Cam Tatum scored 10 and Vol senior Brandon Lopez 8 for KNS. Vol juniors Armani Moore and Derek Reese scored 22 each for Choice Spine. Moore sank 9 of 20 from the field, 1 of 6 from 3, and 3 of 5 from the foul line. Reese hit 8 of 20 from the field, including 4 of 9 from 3.
GAME 3: Vol signees Devon Baulkman (39 points) and Willie Carmichael (33) had big nights in leading DeRoyal to a 115-109 overtime defeat of Campus Lights. Baulkman hit 14 of 29 field-goal tries, 8 of 18 treys and 3 of 3 foul shots. Carmichael drained 15 of 22 field-goal tries, making his only 3-point attempt. He also hit 2 of 3 free throws. Ex-Vol Wayne Chism scored 16 for DeRoyal. Vol senior Josh Richardson led Campus Lights with 39 points, connecting on 13 of 25 from the field, 3 of 10 from 3 and 10 of 11 from the foul line. Ex-Vols D'Montre Edwards (24) and Jon Higgins (6) also contributed in the losing cause.