Of Donnie Tyndall’s eight Tennessee basketball signees, it’s doubtful any appreciate their new opportunity more than Kevin Punter and Devon Baulkman.
They survived junior college.
“Man,’’ Punter said Monday night, “that was definitely tough.’’
Punter and Baulkman went at each other as the Rocky Top League moved into its second week at Knoxville Catholic High School with an overtime thriller. Baulkman’s DeRoyal team won over Punter and Clancy’s Tavern, 119-117.
It looked as if Punter had delivered in regulation with a floater to put Clancy’s up 105-103. But ex-Vol Wayne Chism’s free throws with 1.1 seconds left forced overtime.
Punter again gave Clancy’s a lead with two free throws with 25 seconds left in overtime. But Baulkman’s 3-pointer with 11.1 on the clock proved to be the winner for DeRoyal.
“He’s a great competitor,’’ Punter said of his new teammate. “We actually live together so we’re together all the time, competing all the time.’’
Baulkman scored 34 points, Punter 31. Chism took game-high honors with 41.
The two new roommates are enjoying their first weeks at Tennessee, no matter what the coaches and strength staff throw at them.
Punter is from The Bronx, N.Y. His college dream was detoured to little State Fair College in Sedalia, Mo.
“Getting the news you’ve got to go to junior college isn’t the greatest feeling in the world,’’ he said.
“But if you really want it, you’ve got to channel that energy into something positive. You’ve got to look at it as taking another route to get somewhere you want to get.’’
Baulkman’s culture shock wasn’t as extreme, at least. He’s from southern Georgia and landed at Gulf Coast State College in Panama City, Fla.
“I prayed about it,’’ Baulkman said. “I knew I made some mistakes. I just had to handle my business when I got there.’’
Punter eventually committed to Missouri, but switched to UT after Donnie Tyndall was hired. Baulkman signed with Southern Miss, then followed Tyndall to UT.
Baulkman, at 6-foot-5, is an inch taller than Punter. Whether they’re competing for the same position or can play alongside each other remains to be seen.
“We’re just going with the flow,’’ Baulkman said. “Coach hasn’t made his mind up.’’
Both share a pride that they survived their detours and are finally at a big-time destination.
“No disrespect to where I was at,’’ Punter said, “it was a great place. But you go from juco to a high major program, of course it’s different.’’
In almost every way: food, living conditions, support staff, equipment. And, not to be overlooked, transportation.
“We took a big old bus,’’ Punter said, “but I know a lot of schools took two vans. That’s rough. Going to charter flights, getting home the same night you left ”
Even the Rocky Top League is a fringe benefit of sorts.
“I’ve never had so much love,’’ Baulkman said. “People I don’t know coming up telling me ‘good game’ and all that. I’m enjoying every bit of it.’’
So is the lady who inspired him to get through his detour, Lynette Baulkman.
“I just stayed focused and did it for my mom’’ he said. “My main purpose is just to make my mom smile.’’
Campus Lights 101, News Sentinel 92: D’Montre Edwards scored 25 and Josh Richardson 24 for the winners.
Ryan Westbrooks led the News Sentinel with 25.
Rice 128, Choice Spine 120: Armani Moore went off for 45 points in a losing cause.
Bobby Maze led the winners with 32. Detrick Mostella added 29.