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Tennessee Basketball: Vols adding Ohio State transfer Felix Okpara raises questions

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Rick Barnes seemed to go directly for a Jonas Aidoo replacement. Tennessee Basketball added Ohio State Buckeyes transfer forward Felix Okpara Wednesday night and announced the addition on their website Thursday morning. The Vols now have another defensive specialist who is athletic down low.

Okpara, who stands at 6’11” 235 pounds, averaged right around six and a half points and rebounds per game, but he also averaged nearly two and a half blocks a game. An extremely athletic big man, he can defend the perimeter and also be a force down low.

Simply put, Okpara can help Tennessee Basketball do what it couldn’t do with Aidoo this past year: Contain teams with elite bigs. Aidoo had the talent, but the toughness was a question. Tobe Awaka, who also transferred out, had the toughness, but he didn’t have the size or athleticism.

Now, speaking of Awaka, where do the Vols go from here. They lost Awaka and Aidoo to the portal, and they have added Darlinstone Dubar, who has the same profile as Dalton Knecht, and now Okpara. However, Barnes is targeting other wings and scoring guards.

Most notably, though, there are reports of Awaka coming back, and Barnes is also targeting Charlotte 49ers transfer forward Igor Milicic Jr., who would be another post player. Milicic, unlike Okpara, can stretch the floor, as he averaged nearly 13 points and over eight rebounds a game while shooting 37.6 percent from three.

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Of all the bigs, Milicic would be the most desirable at 6’10” 225 pounds. That level of finesse could give the Vols a huge advantage. Okpara is a liability shooting the ball, as he is below 60 percent from the free throw line for his college career, and he can’t shoot from outside.

Meanwhile, J.P. Estrella is still on the roster and showed signs of development late in the season. Cade Phillips is still there. If Awaka comes back and Milicic commits, what is Barnes’ long-term plan for the bigs going into next year? That all remains to be seen.

It’s possible Barnes relies on Okpara and Estrella alone and then goes with a bunch of shooters. He showed he’s now more willing to play small ball. Time will tell exactly what Tennessee Basketball will look like, as the Vols are almost certainly not done in the portal.

As for Okpara, he was teammates with current Vols guard Cameron Carr at Hamilton Heights in Chattanooga, Tenn., and he also attended Link Academy in Missouri. Originally, he was born in Nigeria, and he spent two years at Ohio State, so he could be the perfect player for Barnes to develop.

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