Tennessee recruiting class shores up point guard position

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes has said many times this season that his team will have to fight and scrap for every win. Anyone who’s seen all four of the 3-1 Vols’ games would agree with that assessment.

The reason the Vols can’t just show up and overpower any opponent is twofold: One, the lack of an experienced, mobile post player who can get easy baskets and defend the rim. And two, the lack of a pure point guard that can make teammates better with court awareness, blow-by quickness and instinctive passing ability.

Kevin Punter has done a solid job handling the point, but he’s a shooter by trade. Barnes thought he had an answer at point last spring when he signed freshman Lamonte Turner, but he was forced to sit out this season because of an eligibility issue.

Suffice it to say, if Turner were eligible, he’d be playing significant minutes. To the naked eye, it’s easy to see one attribute Turner could bring to the court. He’s a knockdown shooter from the midrange and 3. But there’s more to his game that his coaches have seen every day in practice.

“He’s got basketball IQ and moxie,” said assistant coach Chris Ogden. “And he loves the game.”

Turner won’t be alone next season. Barnes has always insisted on having several players who can handle the ball and make plays. Tennessee’s first full recruiting class under his watch was geared to give the Vols some options at the point.

In case you missed it, Tennessee snuck North Carolina guard Kwe Parker in under the wire of the early signing period. The 6-2 product of Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, N.C. and teammate of Tennessee signee Jalen Johnson is an off-the-charts athlete with a 44-inch vertical leap; YouTube is loaded with evidence of that. But he’s also, as Barnes said in the school’s official release after Parker’s signing, able to “provide us with another perimeter ball-handler.”

Tennessee coaches were also impressed with Parker’s competitiveness.

Parker originally committed to Rutgers, but reopened his recruitment days before the early signing period began. ESPN rates him a four-star recruit as an off guard, but Tennessee will utilize him as a combo. Shooting isn’t his strength, but his ability to get to the rim will make him effective, whether it’s dunking over a 7-footer or drawing double coverage and passing to an open teammate.

It’s worth noting that, counting Kingsport, Tenn. native John Fulkerson, who’s playing at The Christ School in Arden, N.C., Tennessee signed four players from North Carolina high schools in this class. That breaks a 20-year dry spell (remember Rashard Lee, who signed in 1995?), surprising considering North Carolina borders Tennessee and produces several polished players every year, because, along with Kentucky and Indiana, it’s a basketball state.

The lone player in the five-man class who doesn’t come from a North Carolina high school is 6-2 Jordan Bone, from the Ensworth School in Nashville. Bone checks off a lot of boxes, but the most important is this—he’s a pure point guard, blessed with court vision and elite speed.

“He was the fastest player with the ball in his hands I saw all summer,” Tennessee associate coach Rob Lanier said.

Turner, Bone and Parker will all need to adjust to college basketball. But Turner will have had a year to practice with the Vols. Bone has the requisite point guard skill set. And Parker is a uniquely gifted athlete who hates to lose.

In the span of a season, Tennessee will go from having a converted two-guard running the point with no real backup behind him to having three players who can handle the job. That’s progress, and the best thing about Turner, Bone and Parker is that they all figure to be four-year players, building blocks of Barnes’ efforts to stabilize the program.

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