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Vols are Shooting for the Stars in Recruiting

Photo credit: Anne Newman/RTI

All rankings are via the 247Sports Composite rankings 

Tennessee’s basketball recruiting hasn’t brought in the type of star power under Rick Barnes that Vol fans anticipated when he was first hired. There are several reasons for that, though. Barnes was Tennessee’s third head coach in three seasons, meaning that relationships with Tennessee to high schools across the country were likely in disarray. Not only that, but the Vols’ program as a whole had dipped to levels that made it undesirable to some of the more highly-rated players in high school basketball.

Barnes has only brought in one true four-star prospect so far, and that was small forward Yves Pons in the 2017 recruiting class. But that’s been it so far for Barnes and company; every other player has been ranked outside the top 130-overall prospects and has been a three-star player. Last season, Barnes proved he could win with that three-star talent, however, and he and the Vols enjoyed one of the more overall successful seasons in program history.

But sustained success in college basketball requires bringing in some of the top talent in the country year in and year out. And Tennessee’s coaching staff is finally able to sell the Vols to those highly-rated players.

In Barnes’ first two recruiting cycles at Tennessee, he and his staff didn’t feel confident enough to battle the blue blood programs for highly-rated players. The Vols offered 33 players in the 2016 class, but only three of them were five-star prospects and 15 were four-star players. That means barely half (54.5 percent) of their offers were to players rated as four-stars or better. The 2017 class saw both those numbers drop, as Tennessee only offered one five-star player and just 12 four-stars in the 27 players they offered overall. That means players rated as four-stars or better comprised just 48.1 percent of their offer list in the 2017 class.

Then things changed dramatically for this most recent recruiting cycle.

Tennessee is still looking to add one final piece to their 2018 recruiting class. They brought in Richmond grad transfer guard Khwan Fore to add to this upcoming season’s roster, but they still have a scholarship available to give to an incoming freshman. And the Vols were much more aggressive with the highly-rated prospects in this cycle, and they’re still in on one of the more highly coveted centers in the class.

D.J. Burns, a four-star center from Rock Hill, South Carolina, recently reclassified from the 2019 class to the 2018 class. Tennessee was already targeting him in the 2019 class, but now he becomes their No. 1 priority in the 2018 class.

The Vols swung and missed on some highly-rated players in the 2018 class. But this year marked the first time in the Barnes era that Tennessee was actually truly aiming for those types of prospects.

Tennessee has offered 35 players (including Burns) in the 2018 class, and six of those players are rated as five-stars while 20 of them are rated as four-stars. That means 74.7 percent of Tennessee’s offers in this recruiting cycle have gone to players rated as four-stars or better.

Barnes and his staff offered more five-stars in the 2018 class than they had the two previous years combined. And they went from right around half of their offers going to four and five-star players to nearly 75 percent of their offers going to those players.

But it doesn’t stop there.

So far in the 2019 cycle, the Vols have offered 35 total scholarships. Of those 35 offers, 11 have gone to five-star prospects and 17 have been offered to four-star players. Tennessee has given an offer to a player rated as a four-star or better to 80 percent of the prospects they’ve offered in 2019 cycle.

And they haven’t just offered those players; Tennessee is in contention for them too.

Among the list of players the Vols are interested in and who have Tennessee as one of their top options right now are five-star point guard Josiah James, five-star center Isaiah Stewart, five-star combo guard Jalen Lecque, four-star point guard Tre Mann, four-star point guard Kira Lewis, four-star shooting guard Marcus Watson, and four-star guard Dekeyvan Tandy,

The Vols seem determined to bring in a handful of highly-rated players in their 2019 class, and it appears Tennessee is finally aiming higher in recruiting under Barnes. That’s true for their 2020 class as well. Only one of Tennessee’s six early 2020 offers have gone to a player rated below four stars.

Now that Tennessee has finally experienced success in basketball, the Vols’ coaching staff not only has the confidence on the recruiting trail, but they also have the results to sell to top prospects. Rick Barnes and his staff are shooting for the stars in their recruiting finally; now they just have to reel them in.

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