Pearl Jam: Tennessee's Stellar Recruiting Class Highlights SEC Offseason
(This is Part I of Ken's two part SEC recruiting update.
Part II is on the SEC West.)
When Tennessee athletic
director Mike Hamilton scooped up coach Bruce Pearl from his successful
stint at UW-Milwaukee, he hit an immediate home run with the visibility
and persona that Pearl could apply to the floundering program. Little
did Hamilton or anyone else within an echo of Rocky Top realize that
Pearl would take essentially seven or eight players who had enjoyed
minimal success and roll to 22 wins, an SEC East title, and a second
round appearance in the NCAA tournament.
If Hamilton's hiring is
a home run, then Pearl's first recruiting class is a rocket shot off of
the moon. The classy second year coach has amassed a top-10 recruiting
class that is highlighted by Hampton, Virginia forward Duke Crews and
Detroit point guard Ramar Smith. Smith seems like a prototype in
Pearl's electric, up-tempo scheme as he pushes the basketball up the
floor and at 5-10, is a slasher inside the offense that can break down a
defense in the half court. In addition to his ballhandling and shooting
prowess, Smith has been hailed as a defensive stopper.
Meanwhile, the 6-7 Crews
is ultra-athletic as he can play on the wing or go inside and score the
ball over bigger players with his athleticism. He has risen to the
14th-rated player in the nation after being around number 28 a year
ago. Like Smith, he will come into the scheme and see lots of playing
time with his passion and work ethic. Crews and forward Wayne Chism of
Bolivar Central High School in Memphis could actually start in the post
as Major Wingate in the lone returnee to the interior of the Vols'
attack. The 6-8, 220-lb. Chism will help the Volunteers on the boards
immediately and will be a matchup problem for most coaches because of
his inside/outside shooting ability.
Pearl also signed a pair
of highly rated guards in Marques Johnson of Fort Wayne, Indiana and
Cincinnati's Josh Tabb. Both players can expect to see time in the
backcourt with super shooter Chris Lofton as they have offensive
dimensions that can complement Lofton and make him even more effective.
Last season was the
first in many years where the Volunteers were actually a foil for
Kentucky as they picked up a key win in Lexington. Wildcats coach Tubby
Smith watched his offense struggle mightily although they made it to the
second round of the NCAA tournament before losing a nail-biter against
Connecticut. Signing Norcross, Georgia's Jodie Meeks is a step toward
righting the offensive woes as Meeks can put the ball on the floor or he
can stroke the three consistently. The 6-4 Meeks is tough when the game
is on the line as he led his 5-A high school to a state championship and
60 wins in 65 games.
Fellow guard Derrick
Jasper of Paso Robles, Calif. will join Meeks in Lexington. Jasper shot
nearly 40% from three-point range as a high school senior as he averaged
16.2 ppg., 8 apg., and 7.5 rebounds per game in leading his high school
team to a 24-4 record and the Division II-A CIF-Southern Section
semifinals. His points average fell about five points per game this
past season, due to the fact that he dished 74 more assists than in the
04-05 season. With Rajon Rondo gone to the NBA and Patrick Sparks'
finished eligibility, Meeks and Jasper could see time in starting roles
Smith added the 6-9
Perry Stevenson to the mix as an option in the paint. Stevenson, of
Lafayette, La., is tough around the basket with his long arms and quick
launch; however, he will see lots of time with the Wildcats' strength
and conditioning coach who will try to help him chisel his 192-pound
Although the Florida
Gators return their top eight players from this season's national
championship squad, coach Billy Donovan was able to maximize his
scholarship allotment by signing 6-5 shooter Doneal Mack of Statesville,
N.C., Mount Vernon, N.Y. forward Jonathan Mitchell, Memphis guard
Brandon Powell, and center Marreese Speights of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Mack is a top-100 player who excels on the defensive end of the floor as
well as inside an offense. He averaged 21 ppg. as he will add to
Donovan's already strong three-point arsenal.
The 6-9, 245-pound
Speights prepped at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. and will
add depth in the post behind Joakim Noah and Al Horford. Speights has a
powerful physique and is at his best around the basket. Ultimately, he
needs to improve so he can step into these two spots once Noah and
Horford move on to the NBA. Powell and Mitchell will be nice additions
to Donovan's three-point game. Powell could also see some time in
backing up Taurean Greene on the point.
At South Carolina,
establishing depth is a key issue for coach Dave Odom as the Gamecocks
will receive transfers in Devan Downey from Cincinnati and former
Georgia Tech guard Zam Frederick for the ‘07-08 hoops campaign. Downey,
Mr. Basketball in South Carolina in 2004, left the Bearcats due to
coaching staff changes. He averaged 12 ppg. and led UC in steals and
assists. For now, the veteran coach will look to replace leading
scorer and team leader Tarence Kinsey as well as role player Rocky Trice
and Antoine Tisby, who Odom dismissed during the Gamecocks’ NIT run.
South Carolina signed a
top-150 performer in 6-2 Brandis Raley of Gastonia, N.C. Raley liked
his relationship with the coaching staff at USC plus he could step into
a starting role in his freshman year. Raley is a scoring machine who
set a Gaston County scoring record with 900 points in his junior year.
The Gamecocks always
seem to be in need of more post depth and 7-0, 275-pound center Mitchell
Carter and 6-8 power forward Austin Steed will provide a true post
threat. Carter, of Milwaukee, averaged a double-double at Rufus King HS
in his junior and senior seasons. Steed, from Butler High School in
Augusta, Ga., is well familiar with the Columbia area as he played AAU
basketball with the Columbia-based Hoopsters.
South Carolina also
added firepower in the backcourt with a pair of swingmen in Lithuanian
Evaldas Banilius and Chad Gray. Banilius is a good three-point shooter
as he and Gray are also adept at slashing to the basket.
Vanderbilt coach Kevin
Stallings inked a pair of recruits who look like they can play right
away in 6-3 PG Jermaine Beal and 6-7 F JeJuan Brown. Beal could assume
the starting duties when he arrives in Nashville in the fall as at 6-3,
he will be an upgrade in size over departed Mario Moore and 5-11 Alex
Gordon. Beal, universally is looked at as a top-100 player, is DeSoto (Tx.)
High School’s all-time leading scorer and led the team to the District
7-5A title this past season.
Brown is a rebounder who
can score around the basket as he prepped at Biloxi High School in
Biloxi, Ms. He should add depth to the front court where inside/outside
threat Demarre Carroll transferred. Stallings will also welcome
redshirts to the post in 6-9 LSU transfer Ross Nelter and 6-10 Kyle
Georgia coach Dennis
Felton featured a roster in 2005-2006 that included 11 freshmen and
sophomores, so adding a piece here and there was the goal for the
Bulldogs this spring. To improve depth in the post, Felton added one of
the top JUCO prospects in the nation in 6-8, 245-pound Takais Brown from
Flint, Mich. Brown led Southeastern Illinois College to a regional
final appearance in last season’s NJCAA tournament.
Felton likes Brown’s
strength and athleticism and the prospects of him providing a consistent
frontcourt scoring threat. Felton also inked 6-10 F Albert Jackson of
traditional power Oak Hill Academy in November.