Tennessee basketball transfer Brandon Huntley-Hatfield hearing from Auburn, Louisville among five programs

Rick Barnes not surprised by Brandon Huntley-Hatfield’s decision to transfer


Rick Barnes and his coaches are making the same adjustments every other coaching staff in college basketball is making.

With the NCAA Transfer Portal, a one-time free transfer rule in college athletics and the new name, image and likeness rules allowing players to get paid, it’s free agency in the sport.

“Just the fact that you’re dealing with young people,” Barnes said Thursday before the Big Orange Caravan stop in Kingsport, “and you’re trying to keep a team together.

“The way it looks now, it looks like every year pretty much you’re going to have to reload. Because it seems like when you bring recruits on campus, guys decide well, maybe I need to go somewhere else, or whatever it may be like that.”

Barnes currently has four scholarship spots on his roster to fill to get to the maximum number of 13. Freshman point guard Kennedy Chandler left for the NBA Draft, senior guard Victor Bailey transferred to George Mason, freshman wing Quentin Diboundje left for East Carolina and freshmen forwards Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and Handje Tamba have entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.

Seemingly the most surprising move was Huntley-Hatfield, the former five-star prospect who started the final 13 games of the season and ended the year averaging 3.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 12.6 minutes per game.

Barnes said he wasn’t caught off guard by the move, though. This is the new normal, after all.

“We wish Brandon the best, we really do,” Barnes said. “We worked really, really hard as a staff with every player, not just Brandon, but that’s where we are today. If players feel like, whatever they’re looking for, they can get it elsewhere, they’re going to do it.”

Huntley-Hatfield, the 6-foot-10, 246-pound forward, saw his role increase in the latter parts of his one season at Tennessee, after junior Olivier Nkamhoua was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in February.

He scored a season-high 12 points against UNC Greensboro in December and had a season-high eight rebounds against Auburn in February. He played 17 or more minutes in seven of the final nine games of the season and played some of his best basketball in the SEC Tournament, with 20 points and 11 rebounds in three games.

Huntley-Hatfield was visiting Auburn on Thursday. Over the weekend he released a list of his top five schools since his move to the portal, with Auburn alongside SMU, Wake Forest, Louisville and Arizona State.

“The most important thing,” Barnes said, “and we’ve said this and will always stick to it, we think we have a great situation. We think we have a great program, a great university and the best fanbase in the country. And there’s a lot of people who want to play at the University of Tennessee.”

Tennessee hosted Indiana State transfer guard Tyreke Key, a Celina, Tenn., native, on an official visit this week. The Vols are also recruiting Saint Louis transfer point guard Yuri Collinswho led college basketball with 267 assists this season.

They’re also continuing to chase five-star forward Julian Phillipsthe No. 12 overall prospect in the class of 2022 according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite.

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“We have 13 scholarships that we have to fill,” Barnes said, “and we’ve got to put together the best team that we can. It’s just a new era in college athletics. Right now I don’t think any of us fully know the impact of what it all is going to be until we go through it a couple times.”

Barnes was asked Thursday about staff he and his staff are looking to add, but he admitted only it depends on “what we feel is available.”

“That we think can help us,” Barnes said. “Because we can go a number of different ways with our roster and our play. We’ve got the foundation of our team back. Certainly we know that they know what we expect and what we’re looking for, what we want to do. But we will fill in around it. How that goes, I really honestly can’t tell you.”

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