When Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin took over the program in the spring of 2011, one of his primary goals was to become competitive recruiting Memphis.
Previous Tennessee coaches had tried-with little success-to mine that mother lode of Volunteer State basketball. Celebrated near misses included Elliot Williams, who first signed with Duke and later transferred to the University of Memphis, Leslie McDonald, who signed with North Carolina, and Chris Crawford and Adonis Thomas, who stayed home to play for the Tigers.
This isn’t to suggest previous Tennessee coaches didn’t put in the time. Former Bruce Pearl assistant Steve Forbes practically took up residence in Memphis, only to see his hard work go for naught when players signed elsewhere.
The trend began to change-in part because of some groundwork laid by Pearl’s staff before the coach was fired in March 2011-last December, when Martin was able to convince Jarnell Stokes, who had only just graduated from Southwind High School, to come to Knoxville, where he would immediately be thrust into the lineup. Stokes played so well he earned SEC all-freshman team honors.
Could Stokes be a Pied Piper of sorts in attracting other Memphis/West Tennessee players to Knoxville? Vol fans will find out soon, because major activity is taking place this weekend.
Robert Hubbs, a 6-foot-5 five-star prospect from Dyer County High School in Newbern, Tenn., and 6-8 Jonathan Williams III, who like Stokes is from Southwind, are taking official visits.
The Vols were one of the first power conference schools to recognize Hubbs’ talent, latching onto him during his junior year in high school. Martin was a constant presence at all of Hubbs’ off-season games he was allowed by NCAA rules to attend.
Hubbs used this summer to boost his stock, and now Kansas, Duke, Kentucky-all Mt. Rushmore programs in college basketball-are also in hot pursuit.
The recruiting analysts are enamored with Hubbs. Rivals lists him as a five-star player and the No. 12 prospect in the country. ESPN rates him as the No. 9 shooting guard in the class of 2013.
“Hubbs is an incredible athlete who is just starting to realize how good he can be on the hardwood,” ESPN wrote. “He can score the ball and always tries to excite the home folks with some acrobatic antics in the air. Powerful finisher.”
Rivals rates Williams the No. 47 player in his class and a four-star prospect. ESPN lists him at No. 34 and the No. 11 power forward.
“Williams is a rare combination of length and skill that reminds many of a young Lamar Odom,” wrote ESPN. At 6-8 and left-handed, Williams possesses a tremendous handle and feel for the game. Like Odom, Williams could be considered a point forward that can initiate offense or take the ball off the glass and lead the break.
“His energy and constant activity on both ends of the floor is a thing of beauty. He is more than capable of breaking down his defender in a one-on-one situation to create a shot for himself. Once he has his defender on his heels, he has a nice step-back jump shot from behind the arc. Williams is a competitor who handles adversity well and keeps his cool in games.”
Williams has recently seen increased pursuit from Michigan State, among many others. Perhaps Spartans coach Tom Izzo views him as the next Draymond Green, the former MSU point forward and triple-double threat.
Martin would gladly take Hubbs and Williams along with another Memphis standout, five-star 6-9 forward Austin Nichols of Briarcrest High School, and call it a day. He likes versatile players who can handle more than one position, and he also favors power forwards who can step out and shoot with range and pass from the high post. Nichols is a true face-up four man.
Tennessee is also reportedly bringing in a class of 2014 prospect, Jalen Lindsey, for a visit this weekend, when the football team plays host to Florida. Lindsay plays for former Vanderbilt player Drew Maddux at CPA in Nashville. Lindsey, too, is listed as a five-star prospect by ESPN, while Rivals gives him four stars and lists him as the No. 33 player in his class.