Log in Subscribe

Neutral Notations: Breaking Down Vol Hoops’ Finalized Transfer Portal Class

Noah Maddox
Posted 5/31/24

With the NCAA Basketball Transfer Portal closing earlier this month, the Tennessee Vols experienced a lot of movement in the portal with four players leaving and four players coming in.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Neutral Notations: Breaking Down Vol Hoops’ Finalized Transfer Portal Class


Last week, Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Basketball coaching staff received their fourth and final transfer portal commitment, and they saved arguably the best for last. Officially, Nashville native Chaz Lanier signed with the Vols on Saturday, May 25, and he was the culminating piece of a pristine transfer portal class meant to reload instead of rebuild after last season.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball transfer portal officially closed on May 1, but draft-eligible players were given extra time to go through the draft process as long as they were already in the portal beforehand. Lanier of course fell under this umbrella, and he ended up choosing the Vols over rival Kentucky and BYU. 

Portal Exits

Zooming out to take a look at this transfer portal cycle as a whole, the Vols lost DJ Jefferson, Freddie Dilione V, Jonas Aidoo, and Tobe Awaka. Dilione V committed to Penn State back in April, Aidoo stayed in the SEC to join John Calipari at Arkansas, Awaka committed to Arizona at the end of April, and Jefferson committed to Longwood on April 24. 

Despite Dilione V’s nature of being a former high-profile recruit, Only Awaka and Aidoo played any significant role in the Vols’ run to the Elite Eight and SEC regular season title this past season.

The seven footer Aidoo started at center and averaged 12.1 points per game shooting just 51.5% FG with 7.6 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocks per game in just under 25 minutes per game.

Jonas Aidoo (0) was named to the All-SEC Second Team in 2024.
Jonas Aidoo (0) was named to the All-SEC Second Team in 2024.

He was a lanky and mobile rim protector that sometimes struggled against stronger opponents, but his entrance into the portal was a surprise to Barnes. Aidoo was a top-three big man in the SEC this past season, so the staff knew they would have to find someone(s) to replace his production. 

Meanwhile, the 6-foot 7-inch Awaka was a nice reserve off the bench, averaging 5.1 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game in 13 minutes per game. He was one of the better offensive rebounders on the team, and he was frighteningly strong in the paint. Awaka also had his moments in the NCAA Tournament, most notably against Texas in the second round. In Tennessee’s 62-58 win, Awaka kept the Vols’ offense afloat in the first half, finishing the game with 10 points on 4-5 shooting while inhaling four offensive rebounds. However, his four fouls in 11 minutes epitomized some of the fans’ frustration with Awaka at times, but everyone is rooting for his success at Arizona.

To replace those four, plus the three seniors that started for the majority of the season in Unanimous First-Team All American, SEC POTY, and future lottery pick Dalton Knecht, Josiah Jordan-James, and Santiago Vescovi, Barnes did work in the portal. The four players he found to come to Rocky Top were Hofstra’s Darlinstone Dubar, Ohio State’s Felix Okpara, Charlotte’s Igor Milicic Jr., and North Florida’s Chaz Lanier. 

Darlinstone Dubar

Let’s begin with the first official commit, Darlinstone Dubar. The 6-foot 8-inch wing brings size and position versatility for Tennessee, which seems to be a common theme for this year’s class. Dubar is an athletic and efficient scorer offensively while bringing a borderline-elite shooting stroke. He shot 40% from three last season, including 46.8% on corner threes on 62 attempts.

Darlington Dubar (1) shot 46.8% on corner threes last season at Hofstra.
Darlington Dubar (1) shot 46.8% on corner threes last season at Hofstra.

On spot ups, he averaged 1.19 points per possession which was in the 87th percentile last year while in transition he averaged 1.35 PPP which was also in the 87th percentile. This tells me that Dubar is a perfect piece to get out in transition while also playing off the ball in the half court. He was also a willing cutter, averaging 1.56 PPP which was in the 90th percentile. There’s also some potential for him in the post to take advantage of mismatches, as he averaged 1.14 PPP in that department which was in the 89th percentile.

He is the perfect 3-and-D archetype for the modern NBA, and he also shot 77.1% at the rim last year. Granted, that was at Hofstra in the CAA, but watching his drives on film it is obvious to me that most of his touch around the rim should translate to the SEC just fine. 

Dubar averaged 17.8 PPG, 6.8 REB, and 1.4 AST on 53.9% FG, 40% 3-PT, and 73.4% FT shooting splits at Hofstra last season, and playing on a team with one of the best point guards in the SEC in Zakai Zeigler – who led the league in assists – should only increase his efficiency. Another note on Dubar is that he was the only player in college baseball last season to make 30+ dunks and 70+ three-pointers. 

Defensively, Barnes has talked about how Dubar is not just willing, but looking forward to the opportunity to play on the court at the same time as Jahmai Mashack and the reigning SEC DPOY in Zakai Zeigler. Dubar had a 3.1% block rate, With his size and length (his wingspan pops out on film), look for the Vols to maintain their stifling defensive identity once again. 

Felix Okpara

After Jonas Aidoo surprisingly entered the portal, the Vols honed in on the 6-foot 11-inch Okpara to replenish their backline depth and maintain their rim protection presence. The uber-athletic Ohio State product is from Nigeria, and he actually played at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for a time in high school.

Felix Okpara (34) blocked 83 shots last season which ranked 7th nationally.
Felix Okpara (34) blocked 83 shots last season which ranked 7th nationally.

Last season, Okpara blocked 83 shots in just 23.5 minutes per game. This would have broken the Tennessee single-season blocks record by 10; Yves Pons and CJ Black currently share the record with 73. Okpara’s 83 blocks landed him 7th nationally last season, and he also led the Buckeyes in rebounding, pulling down 6.4 boards per game to go along with his 6.6 points per game. 

The addition of Okpara brings a couple things. First, his ability to protect the rim and rebound as the last line of defense only helps the Vols defensively, and he is more than mobile enough to cause problems on both ends both around the basket as a lob threat offensively and on the perimeter when he has to switch or hedge on to guards. Secondly, he is a tenacious offensive rebounder, as evidenced by his 10.7% offensive rebounding rate a season ago. This helps replace not just Aidoo, but Awaka as well, and Okpara averaged 2.9 fouls per game in his 25 MPG last season which means he played high level defense for more than half the game while managing to stay out of extreme foul trouble.

Okpara shot 64% at the rim last season, and this accounted for the vast majority – 88% – of his shot attempts. He also has a certain tenacity about him, and it shows up in his willingness to go up and dunk the ball with ferocity as much as he can despite playing in a conference dominated by massive big men like the Big Ten. He averaged 1.14 PPP on putbacks, landing him in the 57th percentile, and he also showcased an ability to be an outstanding roll man in the pick and roll, averaging 1.16 PPP which was good enough to land him in the 70th percentile. 

The only downside with Okpara is his free throw shooting, which hovers around 60% for his career. This indicates that his spacing may be limited in terms of his ability to consistently take and make the mid-range shot that Aidoo was so adept at, but with all the other creators around him that should not be as big of a deal as some might make it out to be, especially when you learn about the other two transfers that will be joining him in Knoxville next season.

Igor Milicic Jr.

Milicic is a 6-foot 10-inch forward with a playstyle that screams out stretch-five potential. He has  a nice handle, but it’s the shooting that excites me the most. He shot 45.2% on corner threes last season on 42 attempts, and 36.5% from all other 3-PT areas on 96 attempts. Combined with his incredibly smooth stroke, he also shot 73.5% at the rim last season while playing in the defensive-minded Conference-USA. 

Igor Milicic (24) shot 45.2% on corner threes last season at Charlotte.
Igor Milicic (24) shot 45.2% on corner threes last season at Charlotte.

The Croatian native, who played his high school basketball in Germany, averaged 12.8 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 1.7 AST on 48.7% FG, 37.6% 3-PT, and 81.8% FT shooting splits. Despite what the assist numbers say, he is a willing and able passer, and he is also able to be a solid rim-protector at times. 

Off the ball, Milicic averaged 1.16 PPP on spot-up shooting last season, landing him in the 85th percentile. He also was a demon in transition, averaging 1.24 PPP to settle in the 78% percentile. Like Okpara and Dubar, Milicic is a willing cutter, and that part of his game will probably be showcased much more with Zakai Zeigler running the point.

A fun little exercise is combining Milicic’s and Okpara’s splits from last year to compare to Aidoo and Awaka, and what I got is pretty interesting. The latter’s combined stat line from last year looked like this: 16.5 PPG, 11.9 REB, and 1.4 BLK on 55.3% FG and 20% 3-PT (they rarely ever attempted a three). Meanwhile, the former’s reads as follows: 19.4 PPG, 14.9 REB, and 3.5 BLK on 53.7% FG and 37.6% 3-PT.

I’d say that Rick Barnes is embracing the stylistic shift that the modern game has begun to incorporate and adjusted accordingly. Even before landing Lanier, which I’ll get to momentarily, the additions of Milicic, Okpara, and Dubar made for a fun thought exercise in terms of five guys on the court together. A lineup of Zeigler, Mashack, Dubar, Milicic, and Okpara is one we will almost certainly see plenty of times this upcoming season, and the endless possibilities and potential on both ends of the court is almost intoxicating in its excitement.

Chaz Lanier

The last and most renowned portal target was Chaz Lanier from North Florida. Lanier, perhaps influenced by the success of Dalton Knecht last season, was looking for somewhere that could help him improve his draft stock, but since he went to the NBA Combine that meant his commitment for his final year of eligibility to either of the three schools targeting him – BYU, Kentucky, and Tennessee – would have to wait. 

Chaz Lanier (2) shot a jaw-dropping 44% from three last season at North Florida.
Chaz Lanier (2) shot a jaw-dropping 44% from three last season at North Florida.

Tennessee was able to be his final visit, and Lanier committed shortly thereafter last week. He is an elite scorer and athlete, and at 6-feet 4-inches with his athleticism he is able to put pressure on the rim at all times. Last season, Lanier had a career high in usage rate at 25% while also having a career best in AST% at 11.7% and turnover% at 9.9%. What do those numbers mean? They mean that Lanier knows how to value the basketball and limit turnovers while operating the offense at an extremely high level. For context, Dalton Knecht had a usage rate above 30% last season.

Lanier dominated in conference play, averaging 22.9 PPG which was good enough for third in the country behind Zach Edey and Knecht. Overall, he averaged 19.7 PPG, 4.8 REB, and 1.8 AST while shooting 51% FG, 44% 3-PT, and 88% FT. Point blank, these are elite splits. 

The Nashville native played high school ball at Ensworth, a private prep school, and four years later, he is back in Tennessee. 

He is a lethal scorer both on the catch and off the bounce, shooting 66% at the rim and 44% from three. He shot 36.7% on corner threes (11/30) and 45% on all other three-pointers (81/180). Of those 81, 11 of them were made threes deeper than 25 feet, so he also has extreme range. 

Despite all that, I think my favorite part of his shot chart from last season is the fact that he only attempted 20 true mid-range jumpers as opposed to 53 shots in the floater/top of the paint area. 

Around the basket, he is not afraid to go above the rim to finish on his drives, and he is an elite pick-and-roll ball handler. Although his assist numbers are a bit low, he had a 12% assist rate last season, but when he looked to score off the ball screens, he averaged 1.13 PPP which was in the 93rd percentile last year. He also loves scoring off dribble handoffs, averaging 1.26 PPP last season in those situations which landed him in the 90th percentile. 

To complement all of this on-ball scoring prowess, Lanier was also an elite off-ball scorer last season, averaging 1.23 PPP on spot ups which was also good enough to land in the 90th percentile. He shot 67% eFG – effective field goal percentage accounts for the fact that three pointers are worth three points and two pointers are two points – on catch and shoot shots as well. 

For context, NBA evaluators say that anything above 51% overall is decent, and Lanier also shot 62.7% eFG overall. However, his 67% eFG on catch and shoot shots is on par with the eFG of Jarrett Allen from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Allen shot 68% eFG last season overall as a center who only takes shots around the rim. In fact, Lanier’s 62.7% eFG last season would have been good enough for 8th in the NBA and would have been the only guard above 60%. Just goes to show how good of a season Lanier had shooting the basketball last season, and hopefully it translates over to the SEC for the Vols this year.

Team Outlook

Tennessee’s four portal additions – Dubar, Milicic, Okpara, Lanier – last year made a combined 235 threes. Meanwhile, Zakai Zeigler, Dalton Knecht, Josiah Jordan-James, Santiago Vescovi, Jordan Gainey, and Jahmai Mashack made a combined 304 threes. Zeigler, Mashack, and Gainey are all returning for their senior seasons while Okpara did not even make a three last year.

Zakai Zeigler (5) will be a key component in getting the transfers to mesh this offseason.
Zakai Zeigler (5) will be a key component in getting the transfers to mesh this offseason.

In all, Rick Barnes should have many different options to go to this season, and as long as the team meshes as Tennessee teams tend to do, it should be another special season on Rocky Top. Last year, arguably the best player to ever come through the program almost carried the Vols to their first ever Final Four, dropping 37 points in the Elite Eight loss to Purdue. 

This season’s lineup versatility and flexibility combined with the apparent adjustment in playstyle will be exciting and fascinating to watch. In the end, it will probably come down to the play of fan-favorite Zakai Zeigler at the point, but if he is humming, the rest of the team should follow. It’s still too early to make any predictions for the season, but the excitement is palpable in Knoxville.

Tennessee Basketball, Rick Barnes, Zakai Zeigler, Transfer Portal, Jonas Aidoo, Tobe Awaka, Darlinstone Dubar, Felix Okpara, Igor Milicic, Chaz Lanier