Dan Fleser: Vols Baseball, Basketball Get Top Transfers

Tuesday, July 5, 2022 - by Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser
Dan Fleser

Whether it’s entire universities or individual athletes, college athletics continues to be a fluid situation. Something or someone always seems to be moving somewhere.

Usually there’s nothing going on during the languid days of late June and early July. But news last week of Southern Cal and UCLA joining the Big 10 Conference in 2024 was a whole lot of something.

During the same week, movement of a different sort took place closer to home. Tennessee baseball added a couple of transfers. The Vols’ basketball team, meanwhile, signed a big recruit a year earlier than expected.

Due to the more traditional form of attrition, the kind that has happened for decades, the baseball team’s roster was lacking at third base and catcher for next season. Now it’s not. Thanks to liberalized transfer rules and an extra year of eligibility, the Vols have catcher Jack Alexander and third baseman Zane Denton.

Alexander is a graduate transfer from Austin Peay. He’s a good example of the recent changes in migratory patterns. He transferred initially from Notre Dame to Austin Peay. He’ll play at Tennessee thanks to the extra season of eligibility afforded by the COVID-19 pandemic. He had a .346 batting average this season with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. The 6-foot, 212-pounder also had a .998 fielding percentage and was 23 for 70 in throwing out base stealers. Any nomadic tendencies notwithstanding, Alexander has the resume of a keeper.

Denton is transferring to Tennessee after being a starter for SEC rival Alabama. Considering the two schools’ competitive history, this transfer probably would’ve been unthinkable, say, three years ago. But Denton is from Brentwood, Tenn. As a junior, Denton led the Crimson Tide with 13 homers and 48 RBIs. He has started 58 games in each of the past two seasons.

With Denton, the Vols now have rebuilt the entire left side of their infield in less than a month. Shortstop Maui Ahuna transferred from Kansas in early June. 

Tobe Awaka couldn’t wait to join Tennessee basketball and made a different sort of move. The 6-8 forward had committed to the Vols in May as a 2023 prospect. He reclassified for 2022 and signed with UT last week. Awaka averaged 19.2 points and 13.8 rebounds this season for Cardinal Hayes High in Bronx, N.Y. He played for the same AAU program as Vols point guard Zakai Zeigler.

UT coach Rick Barnes described Awaka as someone who plays “a very physical brand of basketball.”

What happened at Tennessee doesn’t compare to what’s going on with the Big 10. To that, I say hallelujah. It’s easier to appreciate athletes like Alexander, Denton and Awaka, as well as what they’re doing.

A conference realignment of British Empire proportions, while interesting, is beyond me at present. I’ll take the blame for my bewilderment. I just don’t move around like I used to. 

* * *
 
Dan Fleser is a 1980 graduate of the University of Missouri, who covered University of Tennessee athletics from 1988-2019. He’s a 2022 inductee to the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame. He can be reached at ddanfleser3@gmail.com.


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