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Rick Barnes wanted Santiago Vescovi to come back to Tennessee 'for all the right reasons'

IMG_3593by:Grant Ramey04/24/23


Rick Barnes said last week that he was excited about Santiago Vescovi returning to Tennessee for a fifth year because Vescovi was excited about the decision. What the head coach wanted more than anything was for his veteran shooting guard to be returning to the Vols for the right reason.

And that’s exactly what happened Tuesday night when Vescovi announced his return.

“I think that Santi in someways wanted to come back and we just wanted him to do it for all of the right reasons,” Barnes said. “And I think he wanted to do it for all the right reasons. But we’re all excited about it because he has proven himself here, been durable, done everything you can ask from a player since the time he walked on here. 

Vescovi will be a veteran face in a new-look backcourt next season.

Tennessee adds redshirt freshman guard Freddie Dilione and redshirt freshman DJ Jefferson to the rotation, along with four-star wing Cameron Carr. The Vols last week went on a run in the NCAA Transfer Portal, getting commitments from USC Upstate shooting guard Jordan Gainey and Northern Colorado wing Dalton Knecht, as well.

“I think with the young guys we have in the program,” Barnes said, “(Vescovi is) going to be a person that can give them some stability and teach them what this is all about.”

Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee in scoring and minutes this season

Vescovi led Tennessee this season in both scoring, averaging 12.5 points per game, and minutes, playing 32.9 minutes per game. He shot 39.6 percent from the field and 37.0 percent from the 3-point line, going 91 of 246 from deep. He was fifth in rebounding, averaging 4.6 per game, was second in assists with 102 and led the team with 60 steals. 

Over the last four seasons, Vescovi averaged 11.6 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists over 114 games, averaging 31.1 minutes per game. He shot a combined 39.7 percent from the field and 38.1 percent form the 3-point line.

He had a breakout junior year, finishing second for Tennessee in scoring, at 13.3 points per game, while leading the Vols in minutes, at 31.2 per game, the only player on roster to start all 35 games last season season.

Vescovi shot 41.3 percent from the field and 40.3 percent from the 3-point line in 2021-22, going 102-for-253 from the arc. Vescovi became only the second Tennessee player in program history to hit 100 or more threes in a single season, joining Chris Lofton, who did so three times.

Vols had four seniors on roster who have another year of eligibility remaining

He was one of five seniors on roster at Tennessee, all with the option to return next season aside from graduate-transfer Tyreke Key. Senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua entered the NCAA Transfer Portal on March 30 but has the ultimate goal of playing professional basketball next season, according to Barnes.

Senior wing Josiah-Jordan James and senior center Uros Plavsic have not yet announced their plans for next season. Barnes said last week that James is currently working out for the NBA Draft and will go through the pre-draft process.

But while those decisions are being made, Tennessee’s 2023-24 roster has quickly ran out of spots.

“With all those guys, it’s not that we have a lot of conversation with them because we think they’ve got to go out and find out what information they need to know moving forward,” Barnes said. “It’s really on them with also them knowing that, ‘Hey, we’ve got to make sure we have a team here next year.’

“We don’t put any timetables on any of them. We don’t do that. I think each guy knew that, that’s in it and that everybody has their own timetable. That they’ve got to work through it.”

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