COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Tennessee's Yves Pons vs. UNC Asheville

Tennessee’s Yves Pons drives for a layup defended by UNC Asheville’s LJ Thorpe on Nov. 5 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE—The younger players on Tennessee are still learning to not overlook anybody on the court.

Redshirt senior guard Lamonte Turner remembers being the same way four years ago, but he got the benefit of a redshirt season. By the time he stepped on the court for the Vols, he was aware that any collegiate athlete can do damage.

The inexperienced members of this UT team, however, don’t have that luxury.

“These guys are going to have to learn that really quickly because they don’t have a year to sit out,” Turner said. “They’re playing right now, and we need them. I think they realize that.”

UNC-Asheville and Murray State may have been easy to overlook, but No. 20 Washington isn’t.

Two days after announcing the best class in the recruiting service era following the signings of 5-star shooting guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and 4-star small forward Corey Walker — all of whom are top-34 prospects according to 247Sports’ composite rankings — Tennessee will face Washington and its loaded crop of newcomers on Saturday (TV: ESPN+, 5 p.m.) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

“We have a lot of respect for (Washington coach) Mike Hopkins and what he has done with the Washington program,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They believe in that zone (defense), but they adjust out of it, so it’s not a standard 2-3 zone.

“You look at their personnel, they have two of the top-10 recruits in the country, so they’re a very talented team that already has some good wins.”

Freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels — the No. 3 and No. 8 overall prospects in the 2019 class — highlighted a recruiting class that ranked 11th in the country. The Huskies (2-0) also added former 5-star prospect and Kentucky transfer Quade Green during the offseason to join forces with junior guard Nahziah Carter.

The quartet combined for 58 of Washington’s 67 points in a victory over then-No. 16 Baylor on Nov. 8.

Stewart poses the biggest threat to UT and its lack of size and depth in the frontcourt. The Vols have five eligible forwards on scholarship, and only redshirt sophomore Zach Kent is within 25 pounds of Stewart’s 250-pound frame.

Junior forward Yves Pons may be the best option to slow Stewart because of his athleticism. He has seven blocks through UT’s first two games.

“It’s going to be a challenge because Isaiah Stewart is a terrific player,” Barnes said. “He goes both ways really hard, he runs the floor hard and posts hard, but I’ll put Yves up against anybody because he is going to give it his all.”

A series of marquee non-conference meetings for Tennessee starts against Washington. UT will also face Florida State, Purdue or VCU, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, No. 13 Memphis and No. 5 Kansas.

The Vols are still learning about themselves, and Saturday is going to be an important lesson.

“We felt going into this year, knowing we had these younger guys, that we had to challenge them as much as we could with this schedule,” Barnes said. “Even if you get burnt somewhere along the way, you have to know that it will help us in the long run. You can stay at home and get 7, 8, 9 or 10 wins, but it’s not going to get you where you need to go in the long run.

“This schedule that we have is challenging and I expect our guys to grow up from it.”

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