Family affair

Facing USC Upstate is a family affair for Vols assistant coach Justin Gainey

In rotation of scouting reports assigned to Tennessee basketball coaching staff, assistant coach Justin Gainey missed USC Upstate. But he has a pretty good read on how to stop Upstate’s second leading scorer.

“Try to make it difficult for him,” Gainey said ahead of Monday’s practice. “I would say be physical. He’s a freshman. He’s not as physical right now. And I would say contest his shots. He can really shoot basketball. Shoots way better than dad.

It turns out that dad is Justin Gainey. USC Upstate’s second leading scorer happens to be his son, a 6-foot-4 freshman guard. Jordan Gainey.

And when the No. 18-ranked Vols (7-2) host the Spartans (2-7) on Tuesday (7 p.m. EST; TV: SEC Network+) at Thompson-Boling Arena, it will be a first. for the Gainey family.

“I never coached him in a real game or a recreational league game or anything like that,” Justin Gainey noted. “I’ve never coached against him. So man, emotions everywhere. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what it’s going to do. I know he’s a lot calmer and a lot more excited than me, I’ll tell you.

Justin Gainey watches all the matches his son plays, either live or by coming back to find the replay. He offers feedback whenever asked. He asks his son what he hears from his USC Upstate coaches.

But this week, in the days leading up to Tuesday’s game, there wasn’t much talk.

“We didn’t even really talk about it” Justin Gainey said, “other than do you need anything when you come? (Need me to bring) anything to the hotel? Mom is trying to make cookies and all that good stuff.

Jordan At Gainey’s the numbers speak for themselves. He’s averaging 10.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game, starting all nine games for the Spartans. He shoots 47.9% from the field (34 of 71) and 48.6% from the 3-point line (17 of 35).

He had 11 points and seven rebounds against South Carolina on November 29. He scored 10 in his last game, at Wake Forest, and scored in double figures on six occasions. He was the Big South Conference freshman last month and against last week.

The obvious question on Monday was how much he had learned from Dad. But a line was quickly drawn between being a dad and being a coach.

“You know what, we used to do stuff in the aisle,” Justin Gainey said, “take him to the gym and work with him. From the start, I knew I couldn’t train him just because I’m a dad and I wanted to be a dad.

“No matter how many balls I played, how long I coached, no matter who I coached, I didn’t know anything. I was a dad, you know what I mean?”

Justin Gainey was an outstanding leader at North Carolina State from 1996 to 2000, serving as team captain his senior season. He finished his Wolfpack career second in program history in starts (103), fourth in steals (190), tied for fifth in games played (128) and ninth in assists (344).

But to Jordan Gaineyhe’s just dad.

“There was always a part of me that said I would like to train him” Justin Gainey noted. “But I think just those times we had in the gym, and him making me feel (like I was) just a dad and not knowing anything about basketball, that kind of got me quick – hey, maybe training him isn’t a good thing.


Jordan Gainey spent a prep year at South Kent School in Connecticut last season, after winning a state championship as a high school senior in Arizona. Justin Gainey, in his freshman year at Tennessee, coached at Arizona from 2018-2020 and spent the 2020-21 season at Marquette. Earlier in his career, he made stops at Elon, Appalachian State and Santa Clara.

On Tuesday, the paths of father and son cross in Knoxville, in front of a handful of family members in the stands. Justin Gainey on the one hand. Jordan Gainey the other.

“I’m sure it will be a weird time,” Gainey said. “But also a proud moment too. I know how hard he worked to get to this point and get to where he is now. He’s playing at a good level right now.

“For me as a dad, I’m just thrilled and excited for him to have the chance to perform on this stage. And to compete at this level. It’s going to be a lot of mixed emotions for me and also for my family.