Tyndall added eight players in a three-week span last month to rebuild a team that had been decimated by graduations and defections. Now he must help this group establish some chemistry while also preparing for his Aug. 2 wedding.
“I read a book a few years ago (that said) the three most stressful things you can do in your life are take a new job, get married and buy a home,” Tyndall said. “I’m going to do all that in about a two- to three-month window. It’s been crazy.”
Tyndall’s first Tennessee team will bear little resemblance to the one that went 24-13 and reached a regional semifinal this past season under Cuonzo Martin, now the coach at California.
Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon, Antonio Barton and D’Montre Edwards completed their eligibility. Jarnell Stokes bypassed his senior season to enter the draft. Darius Thompson, A.J. Davis and Quinton Chievous transferred. Rawane Ndiaye tore his anterior cruciate ligament, effectively ending his Tennessee career. All four recruits to sign with Tennessee last November opted for releases after Martin’s departure.
Tennessee’s only returning scholarship players from the 2013-14 team are Josh Richardson, Robert Hubbs III, Armani Moore and Derek Reese. Richardson’s the only player in that group who averaged more than five points per game.
Tyndall wasted no time getting reinforcements.
He added two graduate transfers by signing guard Ian Chiles from IUPUI and forward Eric McKnight from Florida Gulf Coast. Guard Devon Baulkman and forward Willie Carmichael, a pair of recruits who originally signed with Southern Mississippi, received their releases and followed Tyndall to Tennessee. Tyndall also signed junior college guard Kevin Punter, guard Detrick Mostella and forwards Jabari McGhee and Tariq Owens.
Tyndall didn’t sugarcoat his message to these newcomers. McGhee said Tyndall “just looked me in the eyes and said this is going to be the hardest year of your life.”
“The way it unfolded, we just got the best players we could get, and it had a nice balance between wings and big guys, and upperclassmen and freshmen,” Tyndall said. “It just kind of worked out.”
Tennessee still doesn’t have a prototypical point guard on scholarship, though Chiles and Punter are combo guards with the ability to run an offense. That could lead to a bigger role for walk-on Brandon Lopez, who had just 13 minutes of playing time last season.
The Volunteers also don’t have much bulk. Tennessee’s 2013-14 team bruised opponents with the frontcourt duo of Stokes and Maymon, who were both listed as 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. Tyndall’s heaviest player is the 225-pound McGhee.
There are other issues as well.
Chiles is recovering from hernia surgery and is expected to be out for a couple of more weeks. The Vols are still awaiting word from the NCAA on Mostella. Tyndall has one more available scholarship and hasn’t ruled out adding one more player.
Tyndall has succeeded in this type of circumstance before. In Tyndall’s first season at Southern Mississippi, the Golden Eagles went 27-10 despite returning only four players from a team that had reached the NCAA tournament the previous season.
So even though Tyndall expects most preseason forecasts to have Tennessee finishing near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference, his players remain confident.
“Everyone knows we have one goal, one purpose — to make it to the tournament,” Carmichael said. “Every day we talk about that, we just work hard to do it.”
It’s a goal that leaves Tyndall with no time to rest amid this life-changing summer.
“Last night, I slept about 4½ hours, and it felt like I got to sleep an entire weekend,” Tyndall said. “That was a good night’s sleep compared to the first few weeks on the job. But I love that. It’s a challenge. It’s like anything else.
“You have to be competitive every day to get your team better on the practice floor. You have to be competitive in recruiting every day. You have to be competitive in the film room. It’s not just about being competitive on game night.”