Olivier Nkamhoua is back on the court.
Tennessee’s rising senior forward, who was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in a win at South Carolina in February, recently played internationally as part of Basketball Finland.
Nkamhoua, a Helsinki native, played for Susijengin in two friendly games against Estonia last week. During Thursday’s Finland win over Estonia, Nkamhoua had 12 points and two rebounds in 22 minutes, going 5-for-9 from the field. On Friday, he had 11 points and three rebounds in 17 minutes, shooting 4-for-7.
Last summer was Nkamhoua’s first competing with Basketball Finland, playing in three national matches with his native country a year ago ahead of the Summer Olympics in Japan.
Nkamhoua was one of Tennessee’s most productive forwards before being lost to the injury 22 games into his junior season. The 6-foot-8 power forward was averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game, starting every game before being sidelined.
The numbers were career highs, a sharp increase from the 4.5 points and 3.3 rebounds he averaged in the first 76 games of his career, over the previous two seasons.
“It’s tough on ‘O’, it really is,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after the injury news was announced on February 7. “I mean, he’s worked so hard and his teammates respect him for so many different things, obviously. But when I was speaking with him last night, he’s emotional about it.
“But we talked about someway, somehow, this is going to be a blessing in disguise. We’re not sure how it’s going to work out, how it’s going to help him in the long run. Because I’ve seen guys embrace it as opposed to just shutting it down. He won’t do that (shut it down). He’ll continue to be a great teammate. He has been a great teammate for those young guys and he’ll continue to do that.”
Nkamhoua, who attended Bishop Walsh High School in Maryland, was a three-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting cycle, ranked by the industry-generated 247Sports Composite as the No. 167 overall player in his class, falling in at No. 29 among power forwards. He was the No. 3 overall prospect out of Finland.
The ankle injury wasn’t the first setback for Nkamhoua. A broken leg suffered during his junior year of high school slowed his recruitment after missing a large portion of his prep career coming back from the injury.
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Freshman center Jonas Aidoo helped fill the void left by Nkamhoua, making 19 appearances last season while seeing his role increase later in the year. He averaged 2.1 points and 2.2 rebounds in 7.8 minutes per game, to go with 10 blocks on the year.
Nkamhoua will be the veteran post presence for Tennessee this season, returning alongside Aidoo. The Vols lost sixth-year senior John Fulkerson to exhausted eligibility, while freshman power forward Brandon Huntley-Hatfield transferred to Louisville.
Tennessee currently has four players on roster listed as forwards, with Nkamhoua and Aidoo joined by 7-foot senior Uros Plavsic and 6-foot-8 five-star freshman small forward Julian Phillips,