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Tennessee Basketball...Yes, Basketball
It's like Christmas in July!
Posted: Thursday, July 22nd, 2010, 10:12 AM • Permalink
I mentioned in my last blog that my dad and I were UT basketball season ticket holders during the rather lean Wade Houston years of the early '90s. I suppose a lot of what you like as an adult stems from what you were exposed to when you were younger. (Which makes the Josh Briscoe story all the more disturbing.) While I am a huge Tennessee football fan, I am, in truth, an ever-so-slightly more avid Tennessee basketball fan. I know. I'm weird. But it's a great time to be me. This season, we made "Da Final Eight, Baby, Da Final Eight!" for the first time in school history, and sports fans around Knoxville were still talking round ball well into May. (MAY. IN KNOXVILLE!) Bruce Pearl is the most well-rounded coach since Ray Mears, if not in school history, and our recruiting is reaching levels never before seen (or even foreseen) in Big Orange Country. Needless to say, this all makes me a happy boy. And it allows me to write about the following in the middle of July....

As a few of you may remember, back at the end of March I sent Tony some stuff about a couple of UT hoops prospects after seeing them play in person at the TSSAA Boys' State Basketball Tournament. (For those of you who don't remember or never saw it and want to, I've included it below today's blog.) I said that I thought we got the best of the Joe Jackson (5-star, #18 player in nation for 2010) vs. Chris Jones debate and that Alex Poythress was a rangy big man to keep an eye on for 2012. Well, I'm still waiting for Jones' fifth star, but Rivals does have him rated as the #32 player in the nation for the 2011 class:


Rivals also has Poythress ranked as a four-star and the 24th best player
in the country for 2012:


Since March, Poythress has received that offer I predicted would come from Tennessee, along with others from Cincinnati, Georgia, and Miami (FL) to go with the one he already held from Vandy. The list of suitors has grown to 18 as well, including the likes of Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Ohio State, and Texas.

While the rest of the UT basketball recruiting world may be pining for Jarnell Stokes (5-star, #7 player in 2012 class according to Rivals, who, by all accounts, is the real deal Holyfield), I'm keeping my eye on Poythress. First of all, Stokes is from Memphis, and we've never had much luck getting kids out of Eastern Arkansas. My boy, Poythress, on the other hand, is from Clarksville. I like those odds a little better. Secondly, and although I compared him to Chism back in March, after seeing him a bit more, a better comparison might be to J.P. Prince. Similar build and leaping ability, but with more ability to shoot. (And he still may grow some.) Also seems to take fewer silly chances (like fouling three-point shooters), but his defense isn't quite there yet (as you would expect from an upcoming high school junior). At any rate, I think Bruce has proven that he knows how to use a J.P. Prince type, and that can't hurt our chances. Lastly, Poythress isn't from Memphis. Oh, wait, did I mention that one already?

On the former Vols front, there's some exciting news that has been reported by the Chicago Tribune for a few days now. Evidently, the cap space cleared by the Bulls in an attempt to sign Wade and/or LeBron left enough room after adding Carlos Boozer, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver for a back-up point guard. Their choice: C.J. Watson. Talk about pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps. After surviving the final three Buzz Peterson years to spend a year under Pearl and then jumping to play in Europe, Watson waded through the NBA D-League to earn a year-to-year contract with the Warriors that he has now parlayed into a roster spot on a legitimate playoff team if not a championship contender. And, as the understudy for Derrick Rose, he won't have the pressure to perform that one might expect from a $3+ million-a-year deal. Nice.

A more recent Vol alum, our boy Wayne Chism, has an opportunity to join the Kings for their training camp following a solid performance on their Summer League team. Chism averaged 5.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 0.6 assists in the five games he played, which is pretty good considering that most of the Kings roster, including first-round pick DeMarcus Cousins, are young and played a bunch of minutes in those games. The catch is that accepting the Kings' camp invitation could mean voiding his six-figure deal with a team in Turkey. (Ah, decisions, decisions.)

Of all the guys on last year's team, Chism was always the most likeable to me. The way he seemingly disappeared at times drove me crazy, but he never got in trouble and always seemed to have a smile on his face. And he's a legend with Vol fans under age 10. Don't think he ever met a kid he didn't like...or have more in common with than an adult. But despite his childlike demeanor, his 6'9", 246-lb. frame seems made for the NBA, and I truly hope he makes it, both for himself and for the Tennessee program.

I strongly believe that a stable Vol presence in the NBA is critical to UT winning an NCAA Tournament one day (if that ever does happen). If you have guys in the NBA, then you've had the talent it takes to get to the top of the collegiate basketball mountain. Try naming two teams in the last 20 years who have won the NCAA Tourney without a future NBA player on the roster. You need NBA-caliber players to win NCAA championships. Just think, how many coaches and analysts have you heard say the exact same thing? Plus, at this point, it's the one thing that the elite schools we now recruit against can point to as a weakness in our program: "How many guys have they put in the League?" Well, at least Bruce can still say, "One." May not sound great, but sounds a lot better than "None."

And, who knows? He may soon be able to say, "Two."


March 23, 2010:

I had the chance to see the first round of the Tennessee Boys' State Basketball Tourney (Class AA and Class AAA) last week in Murfreesboro. A few insights from my trip:

1) UT has the best player in that tourney committed for 2011: Chris Jones, 5'10" 160lb, PG (4-star, although I suspect that will change to 5-star soon) out of Melrose High School in Memphis. Outplayed Joe Jackson (5-star, 5'11", 160lb. 2010 PG out of White Station HS in Memphis who chose Memphis over UT) every time their teams met this year and throughout the tourney, including in Melrose's win over White Station in the championship game:

(Note the fact that Jones went 18 of 19 from the free throw line, including 9 makes in the final 2 minutes to ice the thing.) Looks stronger than Jackson, and, as noted, is a MUCH better free throw shooter. Good looking stroke, but excellent court vision, instincts, passing ability, body control, and (the infamous) overall basketball I.Q. as well. Perhaps most importantly, he's a winner. And I'll take winners every time.

2) Spoke with some friends of the Prince family who said that J.P. has told his family and friends back home that his shoulders have felt good for the first time since H.S. starting the last couple of weeks of the regular season. He credits that for his recent uptick in free throw and 3-point percentages, as well as his overall level of play and defense.

3) One player to keep an eye on over the next couple of years (Class of 2012):

Alex Poythress
205 lbs.

As a sophomore, definitely has the frame to add at least a couple of inches and probably 20 lbs. before graduating high school. Was the 2nd most impressive player in the tourney behind Chris Jones. SERIOUS leaping ability, good shooting touch all over the court. Good timing on the boards. Already holds an offer from Vanderbilt and has interest from Alabama, Georgia, and Notre Dame. If UT doesn't offer Poythress, I'll be shocked. Could be the next Wayne Chism with more "hops," as the kids say.

Calhoun's Atop Bearden Hill
6515 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN

Calhoun's on the River
400 Neyland Drive
Knoxville, TN

Calhoun's at Pellissippi Parkway
10020 Kingston Pike
Knoxville, TN

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