Tennessee’s basketball team filled a major hole on Saturday night when Darius Thompson, who led his Murfreesboro Blackman team to the Tennessee Class AAA tournament, committed to the Vols during halftime of the Midstate All-Star Showcase at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn.
Thompson, a 6-foot-4 point combo guard who didn’t sign last November and saw his stock rise because of his play this season, committed to Vanderbilt in January but changed his mind after he learned that the Commodores, who start sophomore Kedren Johnson at the point, have another sophomore point guard becoming eligible next season, Tulsa transfer Eric McClellan. After reopening his recruitment, Thompson was flooded with power conference offers and narrowed his list to Alabama, Auburn, Virginia and Tennessee.
But of that final four, Thompson visited only Tennessee. And the word among insiders was that Thompson’s father Lonnie, the long-team head coach at Cumberland, wanted his son to play for Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. Thus, it was widely speculated that Thompson would pick the Vols.
So why would the Vols sign another player who considers the point his primary position? It’s apparent they aren’t convinced Travon Landry, who signed in November, can handle the job of backup to rising senior Trae Golden. Recruiting analysts believe Landry, who is from Huntsville, Ala. but plays this season for Huntington (W.Va.) Prep, is a mid-major level talent.
The commitment of Thompson means the Vols could be over the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships. That could change if Jarnell Stokes or Jordan McRae decide to try and enter the NBA draft, but neither are considered first-round picks, which would make a decision to turn pro risk at best.
If Stokes and McRae stay put, Martin will have a decision to make.
Thompson, from all reports, is worth the trouble. A three-star prospect as rated by Rivals and ESPN, he’s considered a late bloomer whose best basketball is still ahead. He averaged 15 points and six assists this season and racked up 18 points, six rebounds and five assists in Blackman’s 52-49 state tournament loss to Brentwood.
Some have likened-not necessarily compared-Thompson to former Davidson star Stephen Curry. Curry was a lightly regarded prospect among power conference schools before signing with the Wildcats, which he led to the NCAA tournament Elite Eight in 2009. If Thompson has anywhere close to Curry’s ability, the Vols are getting a bargain.
In the short term, if Thompson can just give Golden a few relieve minutes at the point, or even push Golden a bit, that’s all Martin can ask.
Though Thompson is considered a combo guard, he wants to play the point in college. And he’s got lofty goals once he gets there.
“My main goal in college is to get to the (NCAA) tournament every year I’m there,” Thompson told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.