Dump the junk: Change of diet fuels Vol Vescovi’s rise

Friday, January 14, 2022, Vol. 46, No. 2
By Rhiannon Potkey

Junior guard Santiago Vescovi is Tennessee’s No.2 scorer with 13.6 points per game. He also has 40 3-pointers this year, twice the number of any teammate, connecting on 36.4% of attempts.

-- Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Santiago Vescovi doesn’t really care how anyone pronounces his name. He’s more concerned about the quality of his game.

The 6-foot-3 Tennessee junior guard has been earning more widespread respect this season for the continued improvement in his play on both sides of the ball. He’s emerged as a stabilizing presence in UT’s lineup.

“He affects the game,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes says. “He plays so much bigger than his size. I don’t know if people realize all the little things he does.”

Vescovi lit Vol Twitter ablaze at the start of the season when ESPN broadcasters Jon Sciambi and Fran Fraschilla pronounced his last name as VESS-co-vee during the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

It turns out everyone had been mispronouncing it the last two seasons (Vess-CO-vee), but the Uruguay native never bothered to correct them.

It’s not the first time Vescovi has dealt with name struggles.

Last season, he revealed that whenever he places an order at a restaurant he uses the name Bob because it’s just easier and he doesn’t have to spell it.

Vescovi laughed about the most recent incident and adds he truly doesn’t mind how people pronounce his last name. He provided a universal solution. “Just call me Santi,” he adds. “That is it.”

UT opponents are well aware of his name and jersey number from the scouting report.

Entering the week, Vescovi was averaging 13.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game.

He hit several clutch 3-pointers down the stretch in UT’s 66-60 overtime win over Ole Miss last week.

Vescovi’s four-point play cut the Vols’ deficit to three points, his pump-faking 3-pointer tied the game with 1:10 to play and his 3-point bucket in overtime provided the go-ahead points.

“I have been confident in those shots all the time,” says Vescovi, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals.

“Coaches have been giving me a lot of confidence to take those shots. My teammates, I know they trust me a lot and I also trust them a lot.”

Vescovi credits some advice he received from UT associate head coach Mike Schwartz in December after he missed a 3-point shot at the end of regulation of an overtime loss to Texas Tech.

“He told me that every player has to go through those kind of moments where you feel like you were at rock bottom, where you feel like you failed yourself and your teammates, to become the player you want to become,” Vescovi recalls.

Vescovi’s evolution has roots in the offseason when he made a conscious effort to improve his diet and conditioning. He began eating healthier and eliminating junk food.

“Your frame wants fuel, and if you give it the wrong fuel it may not run at the most productive level,” he says. “If you give him the right fuel, start seeing adjustments in his frame.”

Vescovi’s endurance showed during the win against Ole Miss, when he was fresh enough to hit the big shots late and prevent Ole Miss from scoring.

“He played 41 minutes and when you watch what he does on the defensive end, it is really impressive,” Barnes says. “He is guarding on the defensive end.”

Vescovi’s teammates expected his level of play to elevate this season. They saw it during preseason workouts.

“He’s gotten his body in shape. His game is the best that I’ve ever seen it, offensively and defensively,” UT junior guard Josiah-Jordan James said in October. “I think that he’s definitely in for a big season this year.”

The strides Vescovi has made on defense really stood out.

“Just the effort he plays with. He plays hard 24/7,” James adds. “He leads his team when we got four-on-four or five-on-five, and the leadership he shows on the defensive end and the pride he takes in defense has really improved.”

Vescovi’s consistency has been something the Vols know they can rely on in any situation encountered this season. It’s a trust Vescovi has worked hard to gain, no matter how many sacrifices he has to make.

Regardless if he goes by Santi or Bob, Vescovi won’t be placing as many orders at Cook Out. The double burgers, bacon wraps and banana pudding smoothies are no longer a staple in his diet. They would only weigh down his pursuit of success.

“I see all the change my body has made through exercise and healthy food and I think it’s worth it, even if I miss it,” Vescovi says.

“It’s better than starting to eat junk food again.”